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Research Reports 
on Central European History 

Victor Karady and 
Peter Tibor Nagy (Eds.) 


Studies on the First Anti-Jewish Law and 
Academic Anti-Semitism in Modern Central Europe 

Edited by Victor Karady 
and Peter Tibor Nagy 

Research Reports on Central European History 

The numerus clausus in Hungary 

Studies on the First Anti- Jewish Law and Academic 
Anti-Semitism in Modern Central Europe 

Research Reports on Central European History 

Victor Karady and Peter Tibor Nagy (Editors) 

Volume 1 

The numerus clausus in Hungary 

Studies on the First Anti-Jewish Law and Academic 
Anti-Semitism in Modern Central Europe 

Edited by Victor Karady and Peter Tibor Nagy 

Pasts Inc. Centre for Historical Research, History Department 

of the Central European University 

Budapest, 2012. 


The publication of this book has benefited from a number of contributions 
and support. Several of the studies included have been funded in part by the 
European Research Council thanks to its grant 230518 - Culturally 
Composite Elites, Regime Changes and Social Crises in Multi -Ethnic and 
Multi-Confessional Eastern Europe. (The Carpathian Basin and the Baltics 
in Comparison - cc. 1900-1950), and TEMKA foundation. Pasts Inc. Centre 
for Historical Research of the History Department of the Central European 
University has generously offered its label for the whole collection 
inaugurated by this volume. We have profited from the material and 
intellectual contribution of the Nationalism Department of the Central 
European University and its chair Professor Maria M. Kovacs. The 
publishing company of the John Wesley Theological College has granted 
specially favorable conditions for the printing of the volume. 

The numerus clausus in Hungary.Studies on the First Anti-Jewish Law and 
Academic Anti-Semitism in Modern Central Europe/ ed by Victor Karady and 
Peter Tibor Nagy (Research Reports on Central European History ; Vol 1.) 

ISBN 978-963-88538-6-8 .ISSN 2305-5189 

ISBN 978-963-88538-6-8 
ISSN 2305-5189 

© Pasts Inc. Centre for Historical Research, History Department of the Central 
European University, H-1051 Budapest , Nador u 9.; Janos M. Bak, Csaba 
Fazekas, Katalin Fenyves, Tibor Frank, Andor Ladanyi, Victor Karady, Robert 
Kerepeszki, Maria M. Kovacs,, Michael L. Miller, Peter Tibor Nagy, Lucian 
Nastasa, Vera Pecsi 

The text is consultable via and 
Contact editors:, 

All rights reserved 

Research Reports on Central European History 

This collection of books emerged from a practical need. The editors have 
been in charge since the last thirty odd years of a number of large scale 
research projects on East Central European social and cultural history 
related to issues as different as elite training, student peregrinations, the 
systematisation of educational provisions, ethnic identity and assimilation, 
processes of nation building in multi-ethnic societies, Jewry and group 
specific patterns of modernization, social inequalities of urbanisation 
(notably in capital cities), culturally differential population movements, 
transformations of national 'reputational elites'. Our studies have been 
funded by national, international or even private agencies of research 
promotion like the Hungarian Academy of Science, OTKA and NKFP, 
those connected to higher education in Budapest (Research Support Fund of 
the Central European University, Pasts Inc. Centre of Historical Research of 
the Historical Department of the CEU, John Wesley Theological Academy, 
ELTE University), the French CNRS {Centre National de la Recherche 
Scientifique) and the French Ministry of Research or lately the European 
Research Council (via the 'Advanced Investigator's Grant' - Elites 2008 
program). These projects have resulted in the formation of an European 
network of scholars accumulating various data banks for several East 
Central European societies since the 19th century - mostly 
prosopographies, statistical compilations, sets of anonymous serial 
information - the primary exploitation of which has been hitherto only 
synthetically used in academic publications or exposed in workshops and 
conferences. Hence the idea to make available with as many details as 
possible a large array of empirically documented scholarly reports, attempts 
at in-depth data analyses, commented semi-raw sources and data bases 
capable of shedding light on mostly long term and often parallel historical 
developments in countries of the Other Europe. The collection is open to 
proposals without any thematic restrictions. The first volumes are in an 
advanced stage of preparation in English, but publications in other 
languages could also be included. Each volume will appear in a paperback 
edition while remaining freely accessible via internet at the following sites :, 

Victor Karady - Peter Tibor Nagy 


Introduction 8 

Parti. Academe and the politics ofnumerus clausus 

Maria M. Kovacs: The Hungarian numerus clausus: 27 

ideology, apology and history, 1919-1945 

Peter Tibor Nagy: The first anti-Jewish law in inter-war 56 


Andor Ladanyi: On the 1928 amendment to the Hungarian 69 
numerus clausus act 

Victor Karady: The restructuring of the academic market 112 
place in Hungary 

Robert Kerepeszki: "The racial defense in Practice". The 136 

activity of the Turul Association at Hungarian universities 
between the two world wars 

Part II. Around the numerus clausus in Central- 

Katalin Fenyves: A successful battle for symbolic space: the 151 
numerus clausus law in Hungary 

Csaba Fazekas: "Numerus clausus represents a strong 165 

national ideology." Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka and the closed 
number law in Hungary 

Tibor Frank: „AU modern people are persecuted". 176 

Intellectual exodus and the Hungarian trauma, 1918-1920 

Michael L. Miller: Numerus clausus exiles: Hungarian 206 

Jewish students in inter-war Berlin 

Lucian Nastasa: Anti-semitism at universities in Romania 219 

Janos M. Bak: Memories about a segregated "Jewish Class" 244 
in a Budapest grammar school - 1939-1947 

Vera Pecsi: Chronology of the numerus clausus in Hungary 256 

Authors 276 



This volume offers a concerted set of studies on the impact of the Law 
1920/XXV often recognised as aiming essentially to curb the high representation 
of Jews in Hungarian higher education. 

Our book is indirectly the outcome of two motivations. On the one hand a 
large scale survey, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) in the years 
2009-2012, has provided ample information on the ethnic-confessional 
composition of the student population before and after 1919 in Hungary, allowing 
an objectivist evaluation of the academic impact of the numerus clausus. On the 
other hand a memorial conference was organised by the Holocaust Museum in 
Budapest to remember the 90th anniversary of this extraordinary act of legislative 
infamy enacted by the 'Christian Course' Parliament. Most of the authors of this 
book participated in the conference. l They were individually invited to contribute 
on the strength of their special expertise and original research results in this matter 
- in part directly deriving from the ERC project. 

The relevance of our book for contemporary history writing, recently 
enriched with a number of topical studies 2 , can be illustrated by the difficulties 

See Judit Molnar (ed.), Jogfosztds — 90 eve. Tanulmdnyok a numerus clausrol, Budapest, 
/Deprivation of rights - 90 years ago, studies on the numerus clausus/, Nonprofit 
Tarsadalomkutato Egyesiilet, 1911. 

2 See among others : Maria M. Kovacs, A Numerus clausus Magyarorszagon, 1919-1945 /The 
numerus clausus in Hungary, 1919-1945/, Budapest, 2012 (forthcoming) ; Peter Tibor Nagy, 
Hajszdlcsovek es nyomdscsoportok, Oktatdspolitika a 19-20. szdzadi Magyarorszagon, /Capillarity 
and pressure groups, educational policies in Hungary in the 19th and 20th centuries/, Budapest, Uj 
Mandatum, 2002; Peter Tibor Nagy, The numerus clausus in inter-war Hungary. In: East 
European Jewish Affairs, vol. 35, Nb. 1, June 2005, 13-22; Victor Karady, Funktionswandel der 
osterreichischen Hochschulen in der Ausbildung der ungarischen Fachintelligenz vor und nach 
dem I. Weltkrieg, in Victor Karady, Wolfgang Mitter (eds.), Social Structure and Education in 
Central Europe, Koln, Wien, Bohlau Verlag, 1990, 177-207; Krisztina Bognar, Laszlo Molnar, 
Zsolt Osvath, Az egyetemi felveteli rendszer vdltozdsai a 20. szdzadban, /Changes in the system of 
academic admission in the 20th century/, Budapest, 1910; A felveteli rendszer vdltozdsai a 
forrdsok tiikreben, 1871-1949, /Changes in the system of enrollments in the Technical University 
as reflected in the sources/, Budapest, 2001; Andor Ladanyi, Klebelsberg felsooktatasi politikaja, 
/The policy of higher education of the minister Klebelsberg/, Budapest, Argumentum , 2000; 
Andor Ladanyi, A magyar felsooktatds a 20. szdzadban, /Hungarian higher education in the 20th 
century/, Budapest, Akademiai kiado, 1999; Andor Ladanyi, A felsooktatasi felveteli rendszer 
torteneti alakulasa, Educatio. 1995/3, 485-500; T. Kiss Tamas, Allami muvelodespolitika az 1920- 
as evekben. Grof Klebelsberg Kuno kulturdt szervezo munkdssdga, /State policy of culture in the 
1920s. The action for cultural organisation by count Kuno Klebelsberg/, (no indication of place) 
1998; Peter Hencz, Grof Klebelsberg Kuno, a harmadik evezred minisztere, /Count Kuno 
Klebelsberg, the minister of the third millennium/, Szeged, Baba, 1999; Katalin Fenyves, When 
Sexism Meets Racism: the 1920 Numerus clausus Law in Hungary. E-Journal of the American 
Hungarian Educators Association, 2011. Volume 4. 12. ( 
201 1/12); Csaba Fazekas, Collaborating with Horthy. Political Catholicism and Christian Political 
Organisations in Hungary, 1918-1944. In Michael Gehler, Wolfram Kaiser, Wolfram , Helmut 
Wohnout (ed.), Christian Democracy in 20th century Europe, Wien - Koln - Weimar, 2001. 
(Arbeitskreis Europaische Integration. Historische Forschungen. Veroffentlichungen, 4.), 224-249. 


experienced by the conveners of this conference to publish the proceedings of the 
event. The papers presented at the scholarly gathering organised in November 
2010 by and in the premises of the Budapest Holocaust Museum at Pava street 
were, after a forceful change of direction in the Museum, not allowed to be 
published at all, especially not under the aegis of this state institution. The 
publication could be finally realised by the initial conveners, after much 
tergiversation, thanks to private means and the support of the contributors 
involved. The numerus clausus appears to be such a controversial issue even 
nowadays, that its souvenir is still regarded by many - especially decision makers 
in contemporary Hungarian cultural politics - as worth to be covered by a 
generous forgetfulness rather than analysed by means of advanced socio-historical 
scholarship. The recognition of the results of such analysis would indeed disturb 
the idillic clemency with which the epoque - concluded by the Shoah and another 
defeat in a desastrous war entailing the loss of close to one tenth of the country's 
population - is nowadays considered in official hindsight, as objectivated in its 
symbolic policies. 

The regime of anti -Jewish exclusionism, legalised in the numerus clausus 
law 1920/XXV by the Hungarian Parliament, can be interpreted in negative terms 
as the combined outcome of three major developments in Hungary and beyond in 
several Central and Easern European societies. They include the incompleted 
pattern of Jewish emancipation, the inequelities of post-feudal modernisation to 
the benefit of ethnic outsiders (especially Jews and Germans) and the inadequate 
reaction to this by the titular elites in power, comprising the rejection and social 
degradation of Jews, and the more or less forcible 'nationalisation' of Christian 
ethnic outsiders. In this short introduction only the first and the third aspect of this 
development, the most directly linked to the numerus clausus law, can be shortly 

Emancipation indeed never implied in this part of the world the equality of 
Jews and non Jews in terms of employment chances in the civil service or in 
public functions connected to the state power (public industries, the army, the 
administration, politics or... academe). As the numerical relationship cited below 
in this book of religious Jews and converts in academic positions 3 suggests, 
baptism was in this respect the often necessary if far from sufficient condition (the 
infamous 'entry ticket' quoted erstwhile by Heinrich Heine) for nomination. This 
unachieved form of emancipation was the tacitly but efficiently applied precedent 
to the numerus clausus - and its main implicit reference - liable to legitimate 
discriminative student selection. The negatively meant 'difference' or 'otherness' 
of Jews (indeed inferiority) in the social space was never fully neutralised or 
compensated for in public markets of self-assertion and professional success, let 
alone in other symbolic spaces of public life. This was, on the contrary, tacitly 
maintained in the framework of the otherwise indeed quite liberal 'assimilationist 
social contract', connecting Jews to the consciously integrationist ruling elite of 

3 See Victor Karady's study in this volume. 



the emerging Hungarian nation state of the long 19th century, in spite of official 
policies of equality to which the contemporary political class was openly 
committed before 1919 (or at least paid regularly lip service). 

Though Jewish otherness continued to be regularly denied in the dominant 
political discourse of the dual monarchy, this was not true of the social perception 
of Jews. Jews appeared in public life regularly not only as ethnic or cultural 
aliens, but often as morally inferior (since not belonging to the Christian 
mainstream), somewhat suspicious or even potentially dangerous outsiders. Such 
type of 'Jewish difference' came to be implicitely but quite officially recognized 
in the public presentation of social data by statistical services both in a benevolent 
and hostile manner. 

Religion and mother tongue had, from early on, been part and parcel of the 
essential categories applied for the registration of the state and the movement of 
the population in the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Habsburg Empire, 
particularly in Hungary. This was indeed the only would-be nation state in Europe 
without any formal confessional or ethnic-cultural majority, which explains the 
importance granted to that kind of surveys. Ethnicity was always measured by 
mother tongue, whereby minority idioms could be subsumed under larger 
language clusters. This happened to Yiddish, the dominant Jewish language, the 
native speakers of which were thus branded as Germans, speaking a low graded 
Germanic dialect, a 'jargon'. (Such negative qualification of Yiddish speakers was 
taken over by 'assimilated' Jews and often by the very Yiddishists themselves.) 
Thus the language of Eastern Jewry together with their speakers were concealed 
or made disappear in statistical data of the Dual Monarchy. Such act of symbolic 
administration, depriving many Jews of their ethnic particularism, had far- 
reaching political and educational consequences. Eastern Jews were thus for 
instance not entitled, unlike most other large national-ethnic clusters, to use their 
language in public life or public schooling. 

Confessional statistics came to be also quite explicit since the early years 
of the 20 century to separate Jews from others via a negative qualification. (In 
the same time they would not offer cues till the period of nazification - and then 
only as a drastic stigmatisation - as to the identification of those of Jewish family 
background, let alone converts, whose collective difference continued to be, as a 
rule, socially perceived.) Now, from around 1900, official statistical publications 
started to produce data, especially on issues related to the Jewish presence in 
fields of elite activities - higher education, landownership, free professions - 
where Jews were simply compared, globally, to non Jews. 4 This apparently 
innocent, heuristically justifyable scholarly practice displayed in reality a new and 
properly antisemitic public perception of Jews, explicitely presented as dangerous 
competitors of the Christian middle classes. The topic of 'the Jewish conquest of 
ground' in middle class activities {zsido terfoglalds) was thus officially introduced 

4 See the study by Victor Karady : Les fonctions ideologiques des statistiques confessionnelles et 
ethniques dans la Hongrie post-feodale (1867-1948), Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines, 
2008, nr.18, 17-34. 



in printed statements emanating from a public office, hence in the public 
discourse of Hungarian elite circles. 5 It will gain a large publicity in the debates 
conducive to the numerus clausus and throughout the inter-war years to serve as a 
permanent argument in anti- Jewish hate speach and actions. The second anti- 
Jewish law (1939/4) will be openly titled (and justified) as a scheme to „limit the 
conquest of space of Jews in the economy and public life". 6 

After the 1919 political crises, the upcoming 'Christian Course' 
governments made matters much worse indeed for educated Jews in search of 
public careers corresponding to their degrees and levels of qualification - often 
better, in objective terms, as compared to their Christian counterparts. Though 
they showed on the average higher grades, as demonstrated by the marks obtained 
at secondary school graduation (matura, erettsegi), 7 a decisive degree for the 
social qualification for gentlemanly professions (as a precondition of higher 
studies) and middle class status, the employment of Jews in public service came to 
be severely restricted. Those who happened to be employed were often forced to 
early retirement or arbitrarily dismissed. In 1910 one finds 2343 Jews (6 % of the 


personnel) in public administration of all levels in Hungary. In 1920, in the rump 
state, there were still 1425 such Jewish staff (4,4 % of the total), 9 out of which by 
1930 only 595 remained active (a mere 1,7 % of the total). This process of the 
exacerbation of anti- Jewish employment policies in the public sector - which 
effected much beyond civil service proper practically every field of economic 
activity. Jewish managerial or intellectual employment was restricted in health 
institutions (via public hospitals), in the judiciary (among prosecutors, judges, 

5 See for example in Magyar statisztikai kozlemenyek /Hungarian statistical reports/ 64, 204*- 
208* a table of figures specially dedicated to the share of Jews in the intellectual professions. It 
compares relevant data for 1900 and 1910 with long commentaries including repeated references 
to the Jewish 'conquest of the space' /terfoglalas/ in the elites and their glaring or flagrant (kirivo) 
presence in some professional clusters. In counties where the Jewish share was less than 
elsewhere, the authors speak unabashed about a "more advantageous (kedvezobb) situation", ibid. 
, 207. There is another table of similar structure, intention and message in the same volume 
comparing the proportions of Jews in the general professional stratification of the active 
population of the country in 1900 and 1910 (ibid. 278-281). 

6 See the text of the law in Krisztina Bognar, Laszlo Molnar, Zsolt Osvath, Az egyetemi felveteli 
rendszer vdltozdsai a 20. szdzadban, /Changes in the system of academic admission in the 20th 
century/, Budapest, 1910, 232-243. 

7 See earlier results in this matter in various publications by Victor Karady : (with Stephane Vari), 
« Facteurs socio-culturels de la reussite au baccalaureat en Hongrie », Actes de la Recherche en 
Sciences Sociales, 70, novembre, 1987, 79-82; Social Mobility, Reproduction and Qualitative 
Schooling Differentials in Old Regime Hungary, History Department Yearbook 1994-1995, 
Central European University, Budapest, 1996, 134-156; Das Judentum als Bildungsmacht in der 
Moderne. Forschungsansatze zur relativen Uberschulung in Mitteleuropa, Osterreichische 
Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissenschaften, 1997, 347-361. Jewish Over- Schooling Revisited : the 
Case of Hungarian Secondary Education in the Old Regime (1900-1941), Yearbook of the Jewish 
Studies Programme, 1998/1999, Budapest, Central European University, 2000, 75-91. 

Hungarian statistical reports, 56, 713-725. 
Hungarian statistical reports , 72, 474. 
Hungarian statistical reports, 96, 126. 



prison personnel, etc.), in the press or the cultural industry (thanks to censorship 
and selective state subsidies strengthening journals favorable to the Christian 
Course), large scale industries, trade or banking (through state investments, 
sponsored credits and targeted commissions), even agriculture (across the limited 
land reform of 1920 aiming at the preferential expropriation and redistribution of 
mostly recently purchased - often Jewish - properties). Just as an illustration : the 
census in 1920 found still 1026 Jewish estate owners over 100 holds and 1191 
agricultural managers (men and women). According to the 1930 census there 
were only 606 of the former and 914 of the latter. A more general consequence 
of anti- Jewish employment policies can be found in contemporary figures of those 
in the educated professions without work. In 1928 while Jews represented 18,9 % 
of the 'intellectual workforce' in the country, 13 they were as many as 30 % among 
unemployed intellectuals (and 38 % of the latter in Budapest). 14 

In this context it is indispensable to remember that data, such as cited 
above on Jewish-Gentile divisions in the active population, especially in middle 
class and elite clusters, appear to be more and more often in time liable to be 
biassed, in the sense of under-estimating the share of Jews in the educated 
workforce, due to the growing frequency of religious conversions. Baptism had 
been, even before 1919, a way to escape from stigmatised Jewish identity. But it 
was a narrow track due to the very limitation of anti-Jewish pressures in the 
liberal era. The Magyarization of surnames was a much more general and popular 
practice among Jews in their effort at symbolic nationalisation and 
'assimilationist' strategies asserted themselves in an ever increasing manner by 
residential mixing, common education (even in Christian secondary schools) or 
even mixed marriages - probably due to the fact that the latter would not imply 
complete self-denial in terms of collective identity. This is why the number of 
baptisms among Jews tended to stagnate from 1900 to 1916 on a rather low level, 
involving yearly less than 0,5 per thousand population (around 500 per year, with 
544 in 1900 and 463 in 1916 15 ), in contrast for example to surname 
Magyarisations (which was achieved by some 6 % of Jews in the country during 
the two last decades of the Dualist Era ) or mixed marriages (contracted by 3,2 % 
of Jewish bridegrooms in 1897-1904, 4,7 % in 1906-12, 7,7 % in 1913-14 and as 

Hungarian statistical reports, 72, 429, 431 and 443. 
Hungarian statistical reports, 96, 8-9, 
Hungarian statistical reports, 79, 46. 
Hungarian statistical reports 79, 157. 

15 Data from the relevant years of Magyar statisztikai evkonyvek /Hungarian statistical yearbooks/. 

16 See the book by Victor Karady and Istvan Kozma, Csaladnev es nemzet. Nevpolitika, 
nevvdltoztatdsi mozgalom es nemzetisegi eroviszonyok Magyarorszdgon a reformkortol a 
kommunizmusig, /Surname and nation. The policy of naming, the movement of surname 
modification and relations of ethnic forces in Hungary from the Vormarz till Communism/, 
Budapest, Osiris, 2002, 83. 


1 -7 

many as 14 % in the war years of 1914-18. In a balance sheet of social costs and 
advantages, the temptation of apostasy could at that time become attractive only 
for Jews with special existential motivations, notably those contracting 
confessionally mixed marriages (whereby the confessional status of expected 
children could be a significant stake) or others engaged in or aspiring for a career 
in public service. With the crisis period of the advent of the 'Christian Course' - 
or even before, during the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, when the 
menace of a rightist backlash with anti-Jewish implications became apparent - 
baptism started to represent a major scheme of identity dissimulation with over 
9000 cases (some 2 % of the Jewish population) in 1919-20, the worst years of the 
White Terror (including the implementation of the academic numerus clausus), 
and with a yearly average of 450-500 cases during the rest of the 1920s (around 

1 o 

0,1 % per year of the Jewish population concerned). Baptism just like all other 
acts related to the formation of 'assimilationist' identities, as it is well established 
in specific survey results, concerned above all the educated and urbanised middle 
class. 19 For 1931-37 - understandably under conditions of the numerus clausus - 
as many as 13 % of Jews getting baptised in Budapest were students. Among 
lawyers of Jewish background on the list of members of the Budapest Chamber of 
Lawyers in 1940 some 28 % were listed as converts. Hence, all the quantified 
information about Jews in elite groups must be increased, and more and more so 
for the inter- war years, to evaluate the real share of those of Jewish background in 
the middle class categories under scrutiny. The 1941 Census found in the 
population legally defined as Jewish 12 % Christians in the post Trianon territory 
and 17 % in Budapest. These data provide still a crass under-estimation of the 
real demographic impact of those of Jewish origin, since they disregard early 
converts (before the 1 st of August 1919) or others of Jewish descent qualified as 
Christians by the 1939 and 1941 racial laws. Such counts must be applied with a 
vengeance to middle class clusters providing disproportionate numbers of 

This specification appears to be all the more important that converts 
continued for long to be reconed with by the dominant public opinion (in Jewish 
and Gentile circles alike, though with obviously different moral undertones, such 
as 'baptised Jews', 'of Jewish origin', 'of Jewish birth', etc.) in a society where 

Viktor Karady, Onazonositds es sorsvdlasztds. A zsido csoportazonossdg tortenelmi 
alakvdltozdsai Magyarorszdgon, /The management of identity and the choice of destiny. 
Historical alterations of Jewish identity in Hungary/, Budapest, Uj Mandatum, 2001, 246. 

Data from the Magyar statisztikai evkonyvek. 
19 See Viktor Karady, Onazonositds..., op. cit., 288. 

Ibid. loc. cit. 

21 Survey results on the legal profession in the inter-war years. See Victor Karady, Professional 
status, social background, and the differential impact of right radicalism among Budapest lawyers 
in the 1940s, in Charles McClelland, Stephan Merl, Hannes Siegrist (ed.), Professions in Modern 
Eastern Europe, Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 1995, 60-89, particularly 81. 

22 A zsido nepesseg szdma telepiilesenkent (1840-1941), /The size of he Jewish population by 
settlements, 1840-1941/, Budapest, KSH, 1993, 26-27 and 32-33. 



opinion-makers of the mainstream Christian Course came to be more and more 
obsessed by various shades of antisemitic hysteria. The Law 1920/XXV did not 
introduce (unlike later the second anti-Jewish law 1939/IV) any legal definition of 
Jewishness. Thus it was left to the arbitration of the local academic authorities to 
apply or not the ominous restrictions to converts. Legally Jews were defined by 
religion only at that time in the absence of any other definition. Thus even against 
the law, there were several cases in point when baptised Jews were excluded from 
enrollment on the strength of the numerus clausus due to their Jewish origins. 

However it was, we must conclude that anti-Jewish discrimination in 
professional activity markets, controlled by the public authorities that be, was a 
well established policy pattern much before the introduction of the academic 
numerus clausus itself. This legislative measure, commonly considered even by 
contemporaries as exceptional - and exceptionally discriminatory - was in fact 
part of an already perfectly organised, integrated and tacitly accepted system of 
anti- Jewish social practices of restrictive and repressive nature. One cannot ignore 
though that the legitimacy of such practices in non Jewish middle class circles 
could be vastly enhanced by the aggravation of the competition on intellectual 
markets in the inter- war years. Trianon Treaty (definitely signed in June 1920) 
reducing Hungary to a rump state on barely two thirds of its former territory and 
with merely 43 % of its earlier population. But in this contracted country was 
concentrated the bulk of the established educated middle classes - as much as 82 
% on the whole, comparing data of the two censuses in 1910 and 1920 - with 80 
% of civil servants, 84 % of physicians and 68 % of lawyers, for example. In 
this situation the scapegoating of Jews was a direct means to gain market shares 
for gentile specialists in the intellectual professions of the rump state. The 
numerus clausus was a legal instrument for such a transformation of market 
conditions to the benefit of 'Christian' university graduates. It is certainly not an 
accident that the most ferocious academic supporters of the numerus clausus 
(uninhibited even by considerations of professional ethics - unlike lawyers) were 
found in the Budapest Medical Faculty, catering for a professional market 
dominated by doctors of Jewish background. The very proposal of the numerus 
clausus was first formulated by the governing body of the Budapest Medical 
Faculty , the members of which were among the founders of the antisemitic 
MONE (National society of Hungarian physicians). 

But this remark must be referred to fundamental insufficiencies of the 
post- feudal modernisation of Hungarian society. They are implicating a deficit of 
modernisation proper of the would-be Gentile middle class as opposed to the 

23 See a comparison of such basic data in Magyar statisztikai kozlemenyek, 56, 713-725 and ibid. 

24 See to the whole problem area recent studies by Attila P6k, especially his book, The Politics of 
Hatred in the Middle of Europe, Scapegoating in Twentieth Century Hungary : History and 
Historiography, (Szombathely, Savaria University Press, 2009), especially 43-45. 

25 Cf. Laszlo Molnar, Felveteli korlatozasok es ervenyesulesuk a budapesti Orvoskaron 1920-1949 
kozott, in Bognar Kristina et al, op. cit. 1 10. 


intensive agency of Jewry (as well as Germanic, Armenian and Serbian ethnic 
clusters) in terms of educational and other types of mobility in the very 
professions (like medicine or engineering) demanding the heaviest investments 
in terms of learning and work input. 

Moreover it was also true, that such arbitrary anti-Jewish restrictions could 
explicitely or implicitely claim to be supported by precedents abroad in Eastern 
and Central Europe and sometimes even elsewhere. In Russia a strict limitation of 
Jewish university enrollments was the rule between 1886 and the formal 
emancipation of Jews due to the Kerenski government emerging from the 
February 1917 Revolution. In Romania various limitations of access to the 
intellectual activity markets for Jews deprived higher educational degrees 
occasionally conferred on Jews from their professional functions, as witnessed by 


the low level of Jewish enrollments in Romanian universities before 1919. 
Russia or Romania could certainly not serve as examples worth to be followed in 
Hungary. But temptations to control the inscription of Jewish students or to 
exclude them from higher studies or at least from 'normal' student status or from 
intellectual employment occurred in Austria and Germany as well - the traditional 
destinations of academic peregrinations for students from Hungary - both before 
and after 1919. Student corporations started to stress their 'Christian' character at 
least to the effect to exclude Jews since the 1880s in Vienna . This was and 
remained a general practice in German universities. In the latter and among 
imperial decision makers on matters academic in Germany a long public 
discussion was carried out in the years 1905-1913 about the Ausldnderfrage, 
targeting the alleged overcrowding of German universities by Russian students 


(with a majority of Jews) . In the debate and the ensuing turbulences staged by 
German students, the Judenfrage was a strong topical element under the disguise 
of the Slawenfrage, with often explicit agitation for the exclusion of foreign Jews 
(especially Russians, a very large part of foreign students). 30 Following an initial 
statement of the Emperor ("The Russian students must get out"), police actions, 
student strikes and riots, the debate was finally concluded in 1913 by serious 

26 The completion of basic medical studies demanded from the early 19th century a minimum of 
five years (ten semesters) of study - without even specialisation -, as against four years (8 
semesters) for other university degrees. 

27 See the relevant data in Lucian Nastasa's study in this volume. 

28 Cf. Robert S. Wistrich, The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph, Oxford, Oxford 
University Press, 1989, 428. 

29 Jack Wertheimer, The „Auslanderfrage" at institutions of higher learning. A controversy over 
Russian-Jewish students in Imperial Germany, Yearbook, Leo Baeck Institute, 27, 1982, 196-215. 

30 Mario Klotzsche, Perzeption auslandischer Studenten durch die deutsche Studentenschaft und 
die "Auslanderfrage", in Hartmut Rudiger Peter, Schnorrer, Verschworer, Bombenwerfer ? 
Studenten aus dem Russischen Reich an deutschen Hochschulen vor dem I. Weltkrieg, Frankfurt a. 
M., Peter Lang, 2001, 117-141. 

31 Hartmut Rudiger Peter, Politik und akademisches Auslanderstudium 1905-1913. Preussisches 
Beispiel und Sachsisch-Badische Variationen, in Hartmut Rudiger Peter, Natalia Tikhonov (ed.),, 
Universitaten als Briicken in Europa, Frankfurt/M, etc., Peter Lang, 2003, 175-194, especially 



(mostly financially) restrictive measures against the enrollment of foreigners . 
The Hungarian numerus clausus had thus precedents in academic markets abroad 
to which the Magyar academe was closely connected. 

But precedents could be easily found in the Dual Monarchy itself. Though 
there were no formal limitations to the inscription of Jews in any institution of 
higher education before 1919, there was a number of special Christian preserves 
among academic institutions where Jews were discouraged to apply or tacitly but 
efficiently refused admission. This had to do with academies and colleges training 
specialists for the service of the state or territorial authorities, including public 
economic agencies. Thus there were practically no Jews at the Budapest based 
Ludovika Military Academy or in the Selmecbanya College for 'engineers in 
forestry', 33 much like in the Vienna based Konsulakademie, the Technische 
Militdr Akademie or the Theresianum 34 attended by a big number of students from 
Hungary throughout the long 19 century. 

In the inter-war years Central and Eastern European universities in 
Romania (as reminded in this book by Lucian Nastasa's study), Austria, Germany, 
Poland or even the otherwise fully democratic Czechoslovakia (as mentioned here 
in Michael Miller's study) will be places of antisemitic agitation organised by 
'nationalist' student groups aiming at the exclusion of Jews from higher education 
or the limitation of their presence in the campuses. In Austria after World War I 
the erstwhile liberal admission policies were actually reversed. In the heavily 
antisemitic political climate of Vienna (aggravated by the presence of large 
'Eastern Jewish' refugee populations) restrictions to the inscription of Jews in 
both universities started to be enforced in 1923 - with a 10 % Jewish quota proper 
at the Polytechnical University. Although contacts with America were still 
scarce at that time, it was well known that the main classical private universities 
in the United States - the Ivy League Colleges network - all practiced an anti- 
Jewish quota system from the 1920s (when the educational mobility of the 
immigrant Jewish masses reached higher education) till as late as the 1950s, 
included. (Of course, such restrictions in private institutions of an otherwise 
liberal state could hardly affect general trends of Jewish educational mobility, 

32 Ibid. 

33 As witnessed in my as yet unpublished survey results drawn from the multi-variate statistical 
analysis of inscription files of the institutions concerned, there was just 1 Jewish student (0,1 % of 
the total) inscribed in the sector training 'forestry engineers' in the years 1868-1915. A limited 
Jewish student body could though be identified in the sister institutions at Selmecbanya, in the 
department of 'mining engineers' (8,5 %) and in the department of 'metallurgical engineers' (3,9 
%) during the same period. After 1919 Jews disappeared all but completely from the successor 
academy, transferred to Sopron. 

34 For the latter see the prosopographical lists in Patyi Gabor, Magyarorszagi didkok Becsi 
egyetemeken as foiskolakon, 1890-1918 /Students from Hungary in Viennese universities and 
academies, 1890-1918/, Budapest, 2004, 325-430. A survey based on the prosopography of 
students has found that a mere 1,3 % of this student body was of Jewish religion. 

35 Michael. L. Miller, From White Terror to Red Vienna, in Frank Stern, Barbara Eichinger (ed.), 
Wien und die jiidische Erfahrung, 1900-1938, Bohlau Verlag, Wien, Koln, Weimar, 2009, 307- 
323, especially 312. 


given the large network of state universities and other - private, sometimes 
properly Jewish - institutions of higher learning ready to admit Jews without 
reservations.) Anyhow, the Hungarian numerus clausus was not lacking 
contemporary models and examples, though none of them reached the level of 
state legislation like in the Hungarian 'Christian Course', ere the beginning of the 
Nazification process in the 1930s. 

Despite these obvious precedents and parallelisms, the Hungarian numerus 
clausus law can be justifyable qualified - as it has been repeatedly done in several 
studies in this volume, notably those of Peter Tibor Nagy, Andor Ladanyi and 
Maria M. Kovacs - as the first piece of (almost) openly anti- Jewish legislation in 
the contemporary history of Western type parliamentary states. By stating this I 
would not enter into academic polemics about ist significance on the road leading 
to the Nazi policy of extermination. Arguably enough, restrictive anti- Jewish 
policies are not equal to a policy of extermination. It is though also 
demonstrable that the numerus clausus proved to be a major precedent, openly 
preparing the antisemitic legislation of the then still fully independent Hungarian 
state in the period of nazification, starting in 1938 following local parliamentary 
initiatives, continued in bloody mass atrocities committed by the Hungarian 
soldiery in Ujvidek (1941) or by the deportation of 'stateless' Jews from the 
whole country to Kamenec Podolsk during the Summer of 1942 (18-20.000 
victims) and completedby the deportation into death camps of half a million of 
Jewish citizens of the same state during Spring 1944. Truely enough, this latter 
stage of anti- Jewish policies was implemented under the occupation of the 
country by the Wehrmacht. Nevertheless the Hungarian part of the Shoah was 
operationally carried out by the local authorities having a certain degree of liberty 
- as it is proved by the fact that in early July 1944 governor Horthy, the head of 
state still in charge, had enough power to stop the procedure in order to save the 
Jews of the capital city from deportation (at least temporarily, for many of them). 

The character of the numerus clausus as an ominous precedent (and also a 
model, in some sense) to the Nazi type legislation (which in Hungary followed in 
the late 1930s clearly the example of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws) can be indeed 
attested on several scores. 

First, from the beginning, the political rhetoric and public discourse that 
accompanied the campaign in support of the numerus clausus contained elements 
suggesting or even requesting that the restrictions of Jewish enrollment in higher 
education would be just a stage towards the elimination of Jews from public life. 
Some of these statements, emanating even from academic circles, resorted to 
openly racialist argumentation of the kind later much used in Nazi times. One of 
the most influential exponents of the numerus clausus law, professor of 
opthamology, Karoly Hoor invoked images of a life and death struggle among 

36 As remarked by Gabor Ujvary in his study : A felsooktatasi felvetel szabalyozasai a ket 
vilaghaborii kozotti Magyarorszagon, / Regulations of the admission into higher education in inter- 
war Hungary/, in Krisztina Bognar, Laszlo Molnar, Zsolt Osvath, Az egyetemi felveteli 
rendszer...op.cit. 13. 



races as early as 1925. „If the Hungarian nation would at any time reach a point 
that it would or could have only Jewish doctors, at that point the Hungarian nation 
would be ripe to be annihilated by epidemics or to entirely disappear from earth 
because at that point it would cease to exist as a viable nation." 

Second, as mentioned already, the numerus clausus was only a piece in the 
anti- Jewish drive which the governments of the Christian Course implemented to 
segregate Jews in public life, expropriate Jewish properties, dam their efforts at 
national assimilation (notably by making difficult surname Magyarizations ), ban 
them from state or local government employment, brand them in antisemitic press 
campaigns or even properly terrorize them under the bloody White Terror, which 
was organised with the complicity of or at least tolerated by the authorities. Other 
administrative measures included pensioning off Jewish teachers and public 
officials and reviewing the licenses of shops and movie theaters ending up in the 
revocation of licenses from Jews. Thus, from the beginning, the numerus clausus 
was just one of a set of anti -Jewish measures, just like in the late 1930 in the 
period of Nazification proper. 

Third, though aiming formally, in the text of the law, at some sort of 
'proportional' representation of 'racial groups' (nepfajok) in higher education, the 
restrictions in question were applied exclusively to Jews. In the first official 'anti- 
Jewish Law' (the 1938 zsidotorveny) exactly the same procedure and rhetoric (to 
"reestablish the social equilibrium") were applied. In the second so called anti- 
Jewish Law 1939/IV the same proportion (6 %) was introduced as the maximal 
limit of representation admissible for Jews in various fields of middle class 
activities. This law also confirmed the numerus clausus (in its § 7) following the 
original version (canceling its 1928 alleviation) but extended it on a 'racial basis' 
over baptised Jews as well, whom the law (in its § 1) requalified as Jewish. 
Moreover the scheme explicitely widened the application of the numerus clausus 
over all institutions of higher education (except theologies). In this sense the 
ensuing 1940/XXXIX law on the regulation of the enrollment of students in 
higher education effaced (in its § 4/1) both the 1920 Law and its modification in 
1928. The consequences of this formal reaffirmation of the numerus clausus in 
1939 were already directly conducive to the ensuing practice of a quasi numerus 
nullus, openly demanded by the Extreme Right in Parliament with the approbation 
of the minister of cult and education Balint Homan. Indeed the law was already 

37 Karoly Hoor, A numerus clausus, MONE, II/4, 1925, aprilis 1., 4. 

38 One fourth of the land distributed in the framework of the far too modest land reform of 1920 
(Law 1920/XXXVI) had belonged to Jews, when they owned just 18 % of estates over 200 holds. 
Cf. Gyorgy Ranki (ed.), Magyarorszdg tortenete 1918-1919, 1919-1945, /History of Hungary 
1918-1919, 1919-1945/, Budapest, Akademiai, 1978, 427-428. The Jewish share of estates over 
100 holds was just 11,1 %. Cf. Hungarian statistical reports 72, 429 and 43 1 . 

39 Or even cancelling those legalised during the 1919 Republic of Councils. Cf. Victor Karady, 
Istvan Kozma, Nev es nemzet..., op. cit. 176-180. 

Andor Laddnyi, A gazdasdgi vdlsdgtol a hdboruig. A magyar fels oktatds az 1930-as evekben, 
/From the economic crisis till the war. Hungarian higher education in the 1930s/, Budapest, 
Argumentum, 2002, 191. 


applied in 1939/40 already in such a way that in many faculties and academies no 
Jews were admitted at all and their global proportion among the newly enrolled 
did not exeed 1,4 % of the student body. 41 

Finally the 1920 numerus clausus was openly recognised, even claimed to 
be a positive precedent to the Nazi type anti-Jewish legislation by the Hungarian 
authorities themselves in the period of Nazification. "The Hungarian law of 
1920. ..was the first break with the unified liberal, democratic order in Europe", 
following the declaration of the director of the Berlin Collegium Hungaricum in 
1942. The war governments resorted to the same argument in their negotiations 
with their Nazi allies, in order to prove their good faith as to their antisemitic 
commitment. Paradoxically enough, these claims targeted at that time to justify 
and support defensive Hungarian policies, to ward off a more active participation 
of the Hungarian authorities in the ongoing implementation of the Final Solution 
(before the 19 th of March, 1944). 

A reappraisal of the historical significance of the 1920 numerus clausus 
pops up in several studies of this volume. But this is certainly not its major 
message. Rather, the book intends to offer glimpses from various topical angles at 
the implementation, the immediate results, the long term consequences as well as 
the more general implications - even beyond the social destinies of Hungarian 
Jewry - of the new academic legislation. Indeed the law 1920/XXV in question 
was the first step towards the established regime of direct state intervention into 
admission procedures of the higher educational provision in the country. This was 
continued under Communism and beyond - as reminded in Katalin Fenyves' 
study in the volume - so much so that a version of it still persists in the early 21 st 
century, under utterly modified disguises, to be sure. 

Our book has been divided into two parts. The first comprises core studies 
of sorts, related directly to the political and academic implications and 
consequences of the 1920 numerus clausus law and its later modifications. The 
second part concerns studies more loosely connected to the law itself, with 
reference to its ideological underpinning and the experience of academic 
antisemitism in the Central European academic scene. 

The first studies have thus to do specifically with the implementation and 
the immediate or long term impact of the Law 1920/XXV. 

Maria N. Kovdcs gives here some fundamental results of her large scale 
investigations (to appear in a forthcoming book) on the political circumstances of 
the vote, the application, the formal amendment and the final consequences of the 
numerus clausus law. By this she extends her earlier analyses on antisemitism in 

41 Ibid., 190. 

42 Ungarische Jahrbiicher, 1942, 21 - cited in Michael L. Miller's study in this book. 

43 In April 1943 for example Andor Szentmiklossy, head of the political department of the 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepared a memorandum for Regent Horthy to expose the claim during 
his forthcoming visit to Hitler that the first anti-Jewish law was due to the Hungarian Parliament. 
Cf Randolph L. Braham, 1997: A nepirtds politikdja. A Holocaust Magyarorszdgon, /The Politics 
of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary/, Budapest: Belvarosi Konyvkiado, 1997, 200. 



the 'liberal professions' in inter-war Hungary. She stresses the ambiguities with 
which representatives of the conservative Right accepted the scheme under the 
still ongoing White Terror, exemplified in the capital city by the pressure of right 
radical student battalions and the emerging pro to -fascist political establishment of 
the 'Christian course'. Contrary to allegations that the numerus clausus was not 
fully and equally realised in different institutional settings, she explores some of 
the market mechanisms and statistical tricks which appear to lend credit to such 
beliefs. The double talk of the 'consolidation government' after 1921, with 
different arguments inside the country and those destined to the West, as well as 
some technical difficulties of the implementation gave indeed rise to a number of 
historical myths the author is unmasking thanks to her discoveries of the political 
maneuvres and practical conditions of enrollments in contemporary universities 
which marked the management of the anti -Jewish legislation from the 1920s to 
the 1930s. 

Following a number of publications on Hungarian- Jewish issues 5 as well 
as long term processes of modernisation and nationalisation of the educational 
provision in Hungary from the Reform Era till socialism, centred on the growth of 
the regulatory functions of the State, 46 Peter Tibor Nagy takes up the problem of 
the numerus clausus as a borderline case of brutal state intervention conducive to 
the disruption of the liberal educational market. He scrutinizes the process leading 
from the building up of a pattern of popular anti- Jewish ressentiment, manipulated 
by rightist political circles during the war, to the first instance of legislative anti- 
Jewish repression in Europe during pre -Nazi times for which, via a new type of 
anti-Jewish scapegoat effect, the revolutions and the counter-revolutionary 
agitation prepared the road. He accounts step by step for the management of 
negotiations the pragmatic minded Bethlen government was conducting with its 
extremist sympathisers and its European critics of the League of Nations, making 
eventually inescapable the enactment of the 1928 amendment. This did not, 
though, end the heavily biassed competition between elites under utterly unequal 
terms as it was forcefully defined by the numerus clausus. 

Having accomplished a number of basic investigations on Hungarian 
higher education before 7 and after 1919 , which makes him the distinguished 

See her Liberal Professions, Illiberal Politics. Hungary from the Habsburgs to the Holocaust, 
Oxford, 1994; The Radical Right and the Hungarian Professions : the Case of Doctors and 
Lawyers, in Charles McClelland, Stephan Merl, Hannes Siegrist (ed.), Professions in Modern 
Eastern Europe, Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 1995, 168-188. 

45 See besides seminal articles his particularly precious digitalised publication (by Peter Tibor 
Nagy) of the Magyar-zsido lexikon /Hungarian-Jewish encyclopedia/, initially edited by Peter 
Ujvari (Budapest, 1929), henceforth consultable online : 

Cf. Az egyensuly megbomldsa a modern magyar oktatdspolitikdban, /The loss of the balance in 
Hungarian educational policy/, Budapest, 1996; Hogyan keruljuk el a polgdrosoddst ? Magyar 
oktatdspolitika, 1867-1945, /How can we avoid Western type modernisation ? Hungarian 
educational policy, 1867-1946/, Budapest, 1997. 

See his A magyarorszdgi fels oktatds a dualizmus kora mdsodik feleben, /Higher Eeducation in 
Hungary in the second part of the Dual Monarchy/, Budapest, FEPEKUT, 1969. 


scholarly doyen of this field, Andor Laddnyi 's focus here is precisely the political 
history of the controversial 1928 amendment. This is interpreted by some 
historians as an at least temporary reversal of the anti-Jewish legislation, while 
others - like the author and other contributors to this volume - consider it rather 
as a tactical concession made in exchange of expected foreign political benefits, 
without significant results for Jews beyond a few years (factually after 1933). 
Ladanyi's account dwells on the debates in parliament, started already since the 
first attempts at a revision in 1923, anti -Jewish mob violence and agitation on 
campus sites to halt the amendment (masterminded by the Turul corporation), ups 
and downs of the discussion with Geneva, whereby minister Klebelberg could 
count on open reservations of the patriotic Jewish leadership, refusing to resort to 
foreign aid against the government. The study offers a sharp glimpse into the still 
very unequal application of the selection of students after the amendment, 
whereby Christian candidates were admitted in a proportion varying (in 1928/9) 
between 47 % and 100 % in different faculties while their Jewish counterparts just 
between 5 % and 67 %. This led to the decline of Christian (and general) 
academic excellence in higher studies. 

Victor Karady proposes a sociological investigation - in a shortcut - into 
the impact of the numerus clausus on some structural features of the upcoming 
educated middle class in the country. Thanks to his recently completed surveys of 
student populations in the Carpathian Basin - from secondary school graduates to 
degree holders of higher education since the 1870s till Communist times - 
systematic comparisons are mobilized here between Jewish and non Jewish 
alumni (men and women) of Hungarian universities for the years before and after 
1919. They concern the participation in the student body at various levels of 
education (from secondary school onwards), access probabilities to universities, 
escape routes for Jews abroad and in the provinces, socio-cultural characteristics 
including father's profession, levels of Magyarization (by percentages of those 
with Magyar surnames) or regional origns. The study also evaluates the outcome 
of more general objectives of the numerus clausus to limit the 'overcrowding' of 
universities, reduce the 'intellectual proletariat' and restrict female educational 
mobility - in contradiction with other policy targets, such as to secure the 'cultural 
superiority' of Hungarians in the region. A major socio-demographic finding of 
the study is exemplified by the stagnating or in part decreasing proportions of 
those with advanced certified learning at successive censuses between 1920 and 

Robert Kerepeszki takes up the problem of the Turul student corporation in 
a case study centred on the University of Debrecen. Turul was one of the 
infamous agencies instrumental throughout the interwar years in the production of 
a climate made of symbolic terror and open anti-Jewish violence in and outside 
university premises. It was, to be sure, only one of the proto-fascist organisations 

48 Among his books not cited above, the following is particularly important for our topic : Az 
egyetemi ifjusdg az ellenforradalom els eveiben (1919-1921), (The academic youth in the first 
years of the counter-revolutionary course, 1919-1921/, Budapest, Akademiai kido, 1979. 



pressuring public opinion, including government circles, to keep up, enforce and 
strengthen anti- Jewish restrictions in academe and in middle class professions. 
Born in Budapest during the White Terror, it was immediately outlawed after the 
1945 turnover, together with all other organisations of the extreme Right. 
Modelled after the German Burschenschaften and borrowing from them some of 
its machist rituals, the Turul, interestingly enough, claimed to have closer 
connections with Italian fascism than with emerging Nazism, to the effect of 
incorporating in its volkisch type ideology a line of anti-German ethnic 
'Magyarism'. Though engaged in political battles on the side of Right extremism, 
the Turul leadership kept its distance from political parties, even if many of its 
rank and file followers would join Nazi movements in the 1940s. 

The essay by Katalin Fenyves broadens the problem area of the impact of 
the numerus clausus in two ways. On the one hand, the Law 1920/XXV 
concerned from the outstart women as well as Jews, to the effect that for some 
years after its vote the recruitment of female students actually stopped at the 
Budapest Medical Faculty. The author offers an overview of the application of 
enrollment restrictions on women. On the other hand her study suggests a 
substantial reinterpretation of the repressive law as the first historical case in an 
erstwhile liberal, Western type provision of public higher education, to confer on 
the state power decisive competences to limit the size and determine the nature of 
the social recruitment of the emerging educated elite. In different forms - anti- 
Jewish numerus clausus in the old regime (verging on numerus nullus by the end), 
social class contingents under state socialism or pre-fixed numbers of students 
with tuition waivers in post-socialist years - this entitlement has been maintained 
ever since in Hungary as well as in several East Central European societies, 
though the anti-feminist biases have been all but eliminated since the socialist 
reforms of higher education. 

The second part of the book takes issue with different aspects of the anti- 
Jewish legislation and its consequences inside and outside Hungary, including 
similar developments abroad by the case study of Romania. 

Csaba Fazekas gives a condensed account of the discursive and 
mobilisational activities of the highly influential Roman Catholic bishop and 
theologian Ottokar Prohaszka (1858-1927). He was one of the major propagators 
of political antisemitism in Hungary since the late 19 l century and a main 
initiator, in concrete terms, of the anti-Jewish clause in the original version of 
what became the Law 1920/XXV. The collection of his anti- Jewish writings and 
talks were published in a special volume in his times. Even if present day 
historiography is divided between apologists of the bishop, attempting to neglect 
or minimize the anti- Jewish bias of his activities, and other historians who see him 
as a precursor in this matter, the numerous topical quotations and references 
analysed in the study do not allow much space for an ambiguous interpretation. 
This central figure of modern Hungarian Catholicism has amply proved to be a 
protagonist of racist anti- Judaism during the first stage of a development 


conducive to the neutralisation of mainstream Hungarian society facing the Nazi 

Tibor Frank, author of a recently published comprehensive report on the 
exiles of the White terror, invites the reader to participate in a vividly pictured 
and well researched rambling in the company of intellectual emigres, mostly 
Jewish, forced out of the country by the White Terror and the numerus clausus in 
the 1920s. Thanks to the mobilization of a rich documentation - personal 
recollections, autobiographies, interviews, contemporary press reports and a large 
array of correspondence between the protagonists under scrutiny - the study 
evokes and presents several actors of the progressive intelligentsia having left 
Hungary for the West, mostly under duress, in the inter-war years. Their 
peregrinations started in Austria, Czechoslovakia or Germany to end up often in 
America. The main conclusion to be drawn is that the country deprived itself from 
many of the most creative intellectual messangers of modenity, including a long 
list like Oszkar Jaszi, the Polanyis, Georg von Hevesy, Arnold Hauser, Charles de 
Tolnay, Georg Lukacs, Bela Balazs - to cite only some who later became 
international celebrities. Their careers to world fame and influence are illustrated 
here by the detailed itinerary in the United States of two artists, the violonist 
Joseph Szigeti and the revolutionary promoter of the visual arts in the Bauhaus, 
reestablished in Chicago, Laszlo Moholy Nagy. 

Michael L. Miller is engaged in a vast research on student peregrinations 
in the post World War I years. He gives here a more focussed look at forced 
student migrations under the numerus clausus in a case study of Hungarian 
student life in Berlin between the White Terror and the Nazi take-over. Some of 
those involved succeeded later to reach top positions in international science like 
the future nuclear physicist Eugene P. Wigner or Leo Szilard. Others would 
endure the ordinary existential miseries of poor students and the predicaments of 
intellectual alienation, which was to some extent alleviated by stipends procured 
by the Central Student Aid Commitee of the Pest Jewish community, or else by 
generous actions of Hungarian- Jewish philantropers, like the Berlin based bank 
director Alfred Manovill. 5 In spite of efforts at a more balanced cultural 
diplomacy by the minister Kuno Klebelsberg, who founded a number of 
Collegium Hungaricum in European capitals, like Berlin, the climate of 
antisemitism was exported to the local Association of Hungarian Students as well. 
This happened much before the closure to Jews of the German academic market 
under the Brown Plague (as of April 1933, officialised in the law euphemistically 
entitled "Against the Overcrowding of German Schools and Universities"). 

Double Exile: Migrations of Jewish-Hungarian Professionals through Germany to the United 
States, 1919-1945 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009). See also Tibor Frank, Frank Hadler (ed.), Disputed 
Territories and Shared Pasts.: Overlapping National Histories in Modern Europe, (Basingstoke, 
London, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 201 1). 
50 Michael Miller is actually writing a biography of Manovill. 



Lucian Nastasa, a renown specialist of Romanian higher education, 5 has 
recomposed country 52 to make it an original contribution on the last European 
state to grant equal rights to its Jewish citizens. Bound by the Versailles treaty 
with its stipulations on the obligation of 'minority protection' in the aggrandized 
Romanian state, the public educational and police authorities appeared indeed to 
act in most cases (at least up to the late 1930s) in favor of Jews threatened by 
Right extremist movements. But the menace turned often into open physical 
agression against Jewish students who got enrolled for the first times in growing 
numbers in Romanian universities thanks to their civic emancipation inscribed in 
the 1923 Constitution. The study gives precious quantified information on the 
initially growing and later declining share of Jews in Romanian student 
populations. It also offers an overview of the increasing intensity of anti- Jewish 
incidents, outbreaks, calumnies, riots, aggressions, which mark the academic 
scenery in interwar Romania. Compared to this state of affairs, Hungarian 
academic antisemitism may be qualified as restrained, if not moderate, at least in 
the sense that it never turned into murderous violence, unlike in the four 
Romanian centers of advanced learning, especially in Iasi and Czernowitz. 

The book is completed by the personal testimony of Jdnos Bak (eminent 
medievalist emeritus of the Central European University in Budapest). It is about 
his experience as a Jewish pupil enrolled in a Budapest gymnasium in 1939, year 
of the introduction of the numerus clausus in secondary education. Connected to 
the second anti- Jewish law of May 1939, which formally reintroduced, extended 
and 'racialised' (after the Niirnberg model) the numerus clausus of 1920, a 
ministerial decree imposed a 6 % quota to those defined as Jews (including many 
converts) on new admissions in secondary education. This restriction applied to 
state run gymnasiums and Realschulen above all. Catholic institutions had already 
earlier practiced a quasi complete exclusion of Jews (as well as other non 
Catholics), while Protestant schools with an erstwhile larger Jewish clientele 
complied with it variously, the Lutherans less than others. Given the very large 
Jewish student constituency in some central Budapest schools, special 'Jewish 
classes' were organised in three state gymnasiums. This arrangement was both a 
'quasi-liberal' concession - an exception to the numerus clausus -, and a 
humiliating segregation of Jewish pupils amongst their Christian schoolmates. 

See especially Lucian Nastasa, Itinerarii spre lumea savanta. Tineri din spa iul romanesc la 
studii in strainatate, 1864-1944, /Itineraries towards the learned world. Students of Romanian 
background abroad, 1864-1944 / Cluj, Edit. Limes, 2006; Id., „Suveranii" universitatilor 
romanesti. Mecanisme de selec ie si promovare a elitei intelectuale , /The "sovereigns" of 
Romanian universities. Mechanisms of selection and promotion of the intellectual elite/, Cluj, Edit. 
Limes, 2007; Id., Intimitatea amfitearelor. Ipostaze din via a privata a universitarilor „literari" 
(1864-1848), /The intimacy of the lecture halls. Sketches from the private life of teachers at the 
faculty of literature (1864-1948) /, Cluj, Edit. Limes, 2010. 

52 See Lucian Nastasa (ed.), Antisemitismul universitar in Romania (1919-1939). M rturii 
documentare, /Academic antisemitism in Romania, 1919-1939, documentary testimonies/, Cluj- 
Napoca, Edit. Institutului Pentru Studierea Problemelor Minoritatilor nationale, Kriterion, 201 1. 


Janos Bak's text is an insider's report on ordinary processes of everyday 
Nazification as perceived by a boy growing up in the years of the anti-Jewish 
laws, to survive among mortal dangers the German occupation, the murderous 
Nyilas rule and the siege of the capital city. 

A broad chronology of historical events leading to and following the 
enactment of the numerus clausus law accompanies the texts of the studies proper. 
It is worth looking at it in parallel with the chronology attached to Lucian 
Nastasa's essay, offering glimpses at the mounting tide of Right extremism, which 
could be identified in similar chronologies of several Eastern and Central 
European societies in the inter-war years, held spellbound by the mirage of 
xenophobic nationalism and later Nazification proper. One can identify there all 
cases of symbolic and physical violence - often mob rule proper - this process 
involved, wherein large sectors of the upcoming middle class youth found their 
illusions of collective salvation at the expense of their Jewish comrades and co- 


Part I. 

Academe and the politics ofnumerus clausus 

Maria M Kovacs 

Maria M. Kovacs 

The Hungarian numerus clausus: ideology, apology and 
history, 1919-1945 

The numerus clausus law of 1920 applied religious criteria to limit the 
admission of Jews to universities. The Jewish quota was part of a larger 
"nationality" quota system, but in the case of all other nationalities, the law 
prescribed that quotas be calculated by linguistic affiliation. The numerus 
clausus, therefore, virtually created a new legal status for Jews, that of a 
"nationality" based on religious affiliation. This change was not reflected in 
relevant parliamentary legislation that would have explicitly altered the legal 
status of Jews, pronouncing them a nationality, although the radical right tried to 
push for such a change. Nonetheless, the numerus clausus law signaled the start 
of a new period for Hungarian Jews, one fraught with danger. The law elevated to 
the plane of government policy the idea that the so-called „Jewish Question" 
could, and should, be resolved by extraordinary legal measures applied only to 
Jews, which denied them equality with their fellow citizens. In this sense, the 
numerus clausus was just as much an anti -Jewish Law, as the anti -Jewish Laws of 
the 1930s. 

The numerus clausus law 

The law establishing the new system university admissions (Law no. XXV 
of 1920) did away with the previous system, under which it was enough to be in 
possession of a high-school diploma in order to register for university studies. The 
law entitled the Minister of Education to set admission targets, ie. to annually 
determine how many students would be given places at university each year. This 
in itself would not necessarily have included differences discriminative towards 
Jews, since it merely meant that the number of undergraduates who could attend 
university in a given year was predetermined. At around the same time as 
Hungary, university quotas were introduced in Norway, Finland and Scotland, 
without being coupled to any form of discrimination. The law defined the concept 
of numerus clausus thus: 

„The number of students to be admitted to the various faculties shall be 
determined by the Ministers of Religion and Education, based on the 
recommendation of the relevant faculty (or council at the Polytechnic)". 1 

1 Magyar Torvenytar [Hungarian Legal Record] (1921), pp. 145-146. 


Maria M Kovacs 

The nationality quota 

The discriminatory mechanism of the law was established in its third 
paragraph, which introduced the nationality quota system. According to this 
system only as many members of each „nationality" or „race" could be admitted 
(granted permission to enroll) to university studies as was proportionate with their 
share of the overall population. The text of the paragraph ran: „When granting 
permission to register, besides considering the candidate's national loyalty and 
moral rectitude, their intellectual ability, care should be taken that the numbers of 
students from a given race or nationality living in the territory of the country 
should, if possible, reach the national proportion of that race or nationality, but in 
any case should represent at least nine tenths of that proportion". 2 By 
implication, no "race" or "nationality" could claim a larger share of university 
admission than was proportionate to the group's share in the overall population. 

Since the proportion of Jews among the population as a whole in 1920 was 
6%, but their numbers among university students hovered around 25% before the 
War and by 1918 reached 36%, it should already be clear that the majority of 
Jewish students would be shut out of higher education as a result of the law. 

On paper, paragraph three introduced limits that applied to all nationalities. 
However, with the exception of the Jews, no other minority was affected, since 
applicants of no other minority made up a larger proportion of all applicants than 
their quota allowed. As a result, the quota system would not have had any 
ramifications for them, even if the prescribed proportions for each nationality had 
been in fact kept to. 

But the authors of the law were never really serious about the system of 
nationality quotas. Its sole purpose, in anticipation of condemnation of the 
numerus clausus law from abroad, primarily from the League of Nations, was to 
be able to hide the anti- Jewish action in a law that seemingly applied an equal 
measure to all national minorities. In reality, however - apart from the anti- Jewish 
actions - the nationality quota system was never really introduced. The Council of 
the University of Budapest had established as early as 1922 that the nationality 
quotas „in no way" influenced admissions, and that the law was used exclusively 
against Jewish students. „Applicants", wrote the University Council, „do not have 
to declare, either verbally or in writing, whether they are Hungarian, German, 
Romanian, etc. . . and the University itself does not look into this. . ." The council 
also determined that, given the fact that Hungarian birth certificates did not 
indicate nationality, it would be impossible, anyway, to observe a nationality 
quota. Boards of admission - the council concluded - were concerned solely with 
establishing „whether the applicant is Jewish, or not". The University Council 
came out and said what everybody already knew, that the system of nationality 

2 Ibid. 

3 ELTE Archive, Egyetemi tanacsi jegyzokonyvek [Minutes of the University Council], 1922/1. 
ordinary meeting. January 25, 1922. 

4 Ibid. 

Maria M Kovdcs 

quotas was, in fact, nothing else than a Jewish quota hidden within a nationality 
quota system. 

The Jewish quota 

Notwithstanding the fact that the legend persists in popular knowledge this 
day, it is fact an erroneous belief that the expression „Jewish" does not appear 
anywhere in the text of the numerus clausus law. The implementation of the law 
was determined by the enacting clause. And in this, both the expressions „Jewish" 
and „Israelite" feature, as does the statement that the term "Jewish" refers not to 
religious affiliation, but rather to a "nationality". 

In other words, the explicit Jewish quota was not brought into being by the 
main text of the law itself, but in its enacting clause. 5 This included a table 
entitled "The distribution of the population of Hungary according to mother 
tongue in rump Hungary (together with western Hungary)." Below the main title 
a line said: "Israelites are to be considered a separate nationality". In the table 
itself, the eight groups listed were the Hungarians, Germans, Slovaks, Romanians, 
Ruthenians, Croats, Serbs, the Rest and the "Jews". The provision that Jews are 
to be considered a separate nationality", revealed the true intention of the law: the 
creation of the Jewish quota. 

The enacting clause of the numerus clausus law 

A iiepessej; mej^oszl&sa anyanyelv szerint 

1 ^ 

1 "■ 1 




i : 

■'■ ■•!. L 




J , . 1 


■ 1 

' " 



' » li "J , 

I ■ i 


I ■' 

■ 1 

V-3 1 

I i 

" 1 

5T- i/tiil .IS,/,*-, , 

Source: 1920. 123 033 sz. V.K.M. sz. rendelet. Magyarorszagi 
Rendeletek Tara (1920) [Book of Hungarian Statutes], 1455-1460. 

It is important to clarify that „Israelite", in the sense of the law in force in 
Hungary in 1920, did not designate a „nationality", but a religion. The concept of 
a „Jewish nationality" did not exist in Hungarian law up till then, nor was such a 
legal status ever created later. For the purposes of the numerus clausus, legislators 
calculated the quota applying to the various nationalities based on their mother 
tongues. The size of the quota applied to each was - in principle - based on the 
linguistic data from the census. Each nationality could be part of higher education 
in proportion to the number of individuals using its mother tongue within the 
overall population. 

5 1920. 123 033 sz. V.K.M. sz. rendelet. Magyarorszagi Rendeletek Tara (1920) [Book of 
Hungarian Statutes], 1455-1460. 


Maria M Kovacs 

However, in the case of Jews, mother tongue was not taken into 
consideration. They had to be - irrespective of their mother tongue - listed as 
„separate nationality", even if their mother tongue was Hungarian. So despite the 
linguistic principle being the basis of the nationality quota system, when it came 
to the Jews, their mother tongue made no difference whatsoever. What actually 
happened therefore was that the enacting clause removed the Jews from their legal 
status up to that point and - without any specific explanation - declared them to 
be a nationality, rather than a religious group. It thus applied a unique rule to 
Jews, a rule that did not apply to the other citizens of the country. 

As to the difficult question of who was to be considered Jewish from the 
point of view of this law, the legislators gave no answer. This omission led to 
conflicts and scandals at the universities, since even different faculties of the same 
university interpreted the law differently. Some faculties, as the department of law 
in Budapest, only applied the quota to those professing the Jewish faith, while 
other faculties, as the faculty of medicine considered applicants who had 
converted to Christianity but were either born Jewish, or had Jewish parents, to be 
„Jewish". At the faculty of medicine, then, origin by birth trumped religious 

Universities were unable to settle these differences within their own walls. 
Finally, in 1922, in a tense meeting, the Council of the University of Budapest 
branded the table attached to the enacting clause of the law a makeshift „scrap of 
paper" which made it obvious that „both the Parliament and the Government 
wanted to transfer all the difficulties and unpleasantness of this affair onto the 
academic faculties". The most influential politician in cultural matters of the 
time, Kuno Klebelsberg, however, thought that on the basis of the law of 1920, it 
was the faculty of medicine that had drawn the correct and logical conclusion. 

In 1920, the legislature - said Klebelsberg in Parliament eight years later - 
„had the explicit purpose" in creating the numerus clausus law „of declaring Jews 
to be a race. . . . Because once Jews are declared a race, it is no longer possible to 
flee from a race as it is - for example - from a religion, by conversion, or an 
ethnicity by declaring oneself to be of a different nationality". 7 In other words, 
Jews had to be classified according to origin as a „race" in to prevent them from 
using religious or linguistic Justifications" for „escaping" the restrictions 
imposed upon them. 

Therefore, contrary to the frequently held interpretation in Hungarian 
historiography, in Hungary discrimination by origin did not start in 1939 with the 
so-called second anti- Jewish law, but in 1920 with the explicit Jewish quota of the 
numerus clausus, even if at this early stage, discrimination by origin was not a 
uniform practice across the entire spectrum of higher education, but only in 
certain institutions. 

6 ELTE Archive, Rektori Hivatal [Rector's Office], Egyetemi tanacsi jegyzokonyvek [Minutes of 
the University Council], 1922/1. ordinary meeting. 

7 Diary of the Chamber of Deputies [Kepviselohazi Naplo], 1927, vol IX, p. 198 (23 Feb 1928) 

Maria M Kovacs 

The risks and the double-talk 

For a Hungary struggling with the losses of World War One, the 
introduction of the Jewish quota was a risky move. The goodwill of the Western 
Powers was needed in order to achieve Hungary's diplomatic goals, but state-level 
anti-Semitism damaged Hungary's reputation abroad and complicated the raising 
of international loans necessary for Hungary's economic consolidation. This 
explains the unusual phenomenon that while in the Parliament and the press, the 
subject of numerus clausus was accompanied by vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric, in 
Government circles, the topic was nonetheless surrounded by a less than frank 
dissimulation and double-talk. 

The country's political leaders - from international political considerations 
- thought it unwise to speak officially quite openly about the anti-Jewish 
intentions behind the law. Alajos Kovacs, a statistician, ministerial advisor to the 
Office of Statistics (and later its President), described the need for this double-talk 
thus: „Those statesmen who today hold in their hands the future of the 
country... will have a difficult time resolving the Jewish Question without making 
the philosemitic West angry at us". 

This meant in effect that anti- Jewish actions had to be disguised in a legal 
framework that neither foreign opinion nor the League of Nations could fault. As 
Istvan Haller, Minister of Culture for the first Teleki government noted, the 
legislature had to find an answer to the Jewish Question that „reached the very 
goal itself, but was unimpeachable and will not lead to any difficulties for the 
country and the nation anywhere." 

The law was also detrimental for the newly-minoritarian Hungarians in 
Romania. Romania used the analogy of the Hungarian numerus clausus law to 
justify the closing down of a string of Hungarian schools, arguing that the 
situation of the Hungarians in Romania was very similar to the situation of the 
Jews in Hungary, and that therefore the disproportionate" educational 
opportunities inherited from the previous system could be withdrawn from the 
Transylvanian Hungarians. For this very reason, the Bishops of the Transylvanian 
Hungarian Churches asked the Hungarian government as early as 1922 to repeal 
the Hungarian law, to help the situation of the now minority Hungarian 
community in Romania. l Eight years later, this prejudicial effect of the law on 
the Hungarians of Romania was also emphasized towards the end of the 1920s, as 

8 Alajos Kovacs, The expansion of Jewry in Hungary [A zsidosag terfoglalasa Magyarorszagon], 
Budapest, 1922, p. 53 

9 Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyulesi Naplo], 1920, vol. II, p. 395. (session of the 29 April 

10 Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyulesi Naplo], 1922, vol. II, p. 224 (1922. Julius 20). 


Maria M Kovdcs 

an argument in favor of the modification of the Jewish quota, by the Minister of 
Culture, Kuno Klebelsberg. ' l 

But the introduction of the numerus clausus law also entailed risks in 
domestic politics: it shook the feeling of security of the Jewish bourgeoisie, and 
thus endangered post-War economic consolidation. As Lorant Hegediis, the 
Minister of Finance for the Teleki government said: „Patriotic [Hungarian] Jews 
can not effectively co-operate in attracting foreign investment to Hungary until we 
Christians have not destroyed this law". 

Hungary's leading politicians were aware of the international and domestic 
political risks of the Jewish quota right from the start. A good indication is that 
three successive governments in office following the collapse of the communist 
revolution of 1919 resisted the demand of extreme anti-Semitic forces to put the 
Jewish quota into law. When the law was finally accepted by Parliament in the 
autumn of 1920, it is notable that the Prime Minister, Pal Teleki, did not attend the 
vote, and several of the leading politicians of the age abstained from voting, 
among them Istvan Bethlen and Kuno Klebelsberg. The majority of the 
government's ministers also did not attend the vote, nor did 70% of the members 
of Parliament. The government therefore carried the derogation of Jewish rights 
through Parliament by transferring responsibility for the law, the draft of which 
the government had itself introduced to parliament - thus hoping to be able to 
preserve the international respectability of the government. 

Ideology and apologia 

The Jewish quota was initially in force until 1928, and during these eight 
years, the Hungarian government received numerous strictures, both from home 
and abroad. As a response to these, there developed an entire set of apologetic 
justifications with which the Government tried to deflect foreign criticism. The 
Jewish quota was then formally abolished in 1928. However, the new quota based 
on the parents' occupational affiliation also served to exclude the Jews, as did its 
predecessor. Then, from 1934 onwards, the euphemistically named professional" 
quota was once more called in official communication what it really was: „Jewish 
proportionality". Five years later, the 1939 anti -Jewish law formally re- 
established the Jewish quota at universities. 

The ideology behind, and the justification for the Jewish quota that was 
developed in the early 1920s nonetheless survived these developments. So much 
so that certain elements of the ideologically motivated contemporary justifications 
for the law still, to this day, pop up occasionally in the historiography of the 

11 Preamble to the „modification of the XXV law of 1920 regulating admissions to universities, 
the Technical University, the College of Law and the Faculty of Economics of Budapest 
University" draft law, Documents of the Upper House [Felsohazi iromanyok], 1927-IV, p. 398 
(18 Nov 1927). 

12 Pester Lloyd, 1 Aug 1926 (quoted by Haller, 1926, p. 248. ) 

Maria M Kovacs 

period. These original official justifications for the law, however, fail to 
sufficiently explain the reasons behind the legislation. Although there was much 
talk of the very real effects of the crises of the time, the law did not present a 
viable solution for these. The Jewish quota was not a well thought -through policy 
to tackle the postwar crisis, but rather - as Kuno Klebelsberg, the Minister of 
Culture responsible for keeping the quota alive for years, later acknowledged - 
was the product of makeshift „desultory legislation", which - in an exceptional 
historical moment - translated ideas based on false premises into the language of 
the law. Such legislation could not fulfill the expectations attached to it, indeed 
that it was nonsensical even from the point of view of majority society. „It is 
extremely hard", Viktor Karady wrote, „to consider rationally this mass of 
obvious gobbledygook that is the hallmark of anti-Semitic speeches, which often 
therefore remind one of the emotional product of delirium tremens... The causal 
connection between the justifications produced [for their views] by modern Jew- 
haters and the consequences of the hated of Jews is either entirely non-existent or 
remarkably vague." 1 

My intention in this paper is not to look for these vague causal 
connections. Rather, I would like to direct attention to those interpretative traps 
that contemporary justifications of the law had set for the subsequent 
historiography; thanks to which, the racial paragraph of the numerus clausus 
continues to be presented, to this day, as a sociologically sensible response to the 
crisis caused by the War, the revolutions, and the loss of territory. In other words, 
I intend to re-examine a set of relevant facts, library and archival sources, 
statistics and use them to uncover the sources of some of those persistent legends 
that have come to surround the story of the numerus clausus in the past century. 

The war years and the refugee question 

One of the officially stated aims of the law was to create room to clear the 
higher education backlog of male Christian youth who had completed their 
military service, which had come into being because of the War. But their 
problem did not necessitate new legislation. The necessary spaces could have 
been created for them in Hungary, as it had been done in several other European 
countries affected by the War with supplementary summer semesters and relaxed 
admissions criteria. In most countries of Europe, including countries with high 
proportion of Jews in education, there was a similar glut of studies delayed by the 
war, but Hungary alone introduced a Jewish quota in 1920. 

13 „Indoklas „a tudomanyegyetemekre, a miiegyetemre, a budapesti egyetemi 
kozgazdasagtudomanyi karra es a jogakademiakra valo beiratkozas szabalyzasarol szolo 1920. evi 
XXV. Torvenycikk modositasarol" szolo torvenyjavaslathoz" (Justification for the modification of 
Law 1920 XXV. on the regulation of registration to universities, the Polytechnic, the faculty of 
economics and law academies.) Felsohazi iromanyok, 1927. IV. 400. old . (1927. november 18.) 

14 Viktor Karady, Jewry in Modern Europe [Zsidosag Europaban a modern korban], Budapest, Uj 
Mandatum, pp. 333-334. 


Maria M Kovacs 

The second official reason was that the rights to education of Jews had to 
be cut back to make space for the sons of middle-class refugees created by the 
territorial losses at Trianon. According to this reasoning, the quota could only 
have been abolished if the borders set by Trianon changed. „Let them give us 
back the old Greater Hungary", Klebelsberg said in Parliament, „and we will be 
able to remove the numerus clausus from effect". 15 This was plain talk. 

But the sociological facts underlying it were not so clear. The students 
seeking refuge in Trianon Hungary could have been accommodated without 
squeezing the Jews out. The universities where these students had originally been 
enrolled, namely the Universities of Cluj and Bratislava, were also transferred to 
Hungarian soil. Soon after their transfer, it turned out that in fact, there was more 
room at the country's four universities (Budapest, Debrecen, Pecs, Szeged) than 
could have been filled with Christian students, refugees and non-refugees 
combined. Once the backlog from the war years disappeared, it emerged that 
admission target numbers set by the government under the mandate provided by 
the numerus clausus law (keretszamok) could not even be filled, especially if the 
6% Jewish quota was observed in first-year admissions. „Despite [the] numerus 
clausus" said Klebelsberg in 1925, „the children of the Christian educated classes 
did not apply to university in greater numbers". 1 Dezso Laky, an expert 
statistician noted that as early as 1924, "the almost abnormal rush of our youth to 


universities has taken the opposite turn". So by the mid- 1920s, the government 
decided to reduce admission target numbers to a level that was characteristic of 
pre-war years. The overall number of students was also down to pre-war 

However, even so, given the restrictive Jewish quota, many more Christian 
high-school graduates were theoretically needed to fill up prewar levels at the 
universities. For instance, back in 1911/12 when the Jewish quota did not exist, 
only 8906 Christian students were needed to reach a total student population of 
12 247 at universities and law academies, the rest of the places were filled by 

3 368 Jews. ' But in 1925/26, when the overall number of students was 
again similar to 1911/12, totaling 12 326, the number of Christian students at 
universities and law academies was a total of 1 1 043 which meant that the number 

15 Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyulesi Naplo], (1922-26), vol. XXIV, 295th session, 4 June 1924, 
p. 320. 

16 MOL, K 305, VKM Document Fragments, Count Kuno Klebelsberg's address to the League of 
Nations concerning the numerus clausus, 1925, XL 30. 

17 Kiraly Sandor, Az egyetemi hallgatosag tarsadalmi arculata Magyarorszagon a ket vilaghaboru 
kozott (The social profile of university students in interwar Hungary), Doktori Ertekezes, 
Debrecen, BTK, 2009., 16. old. 

18 In this year when the actual number of high-school graduates continuing at universities and law 
academies (Jews and non-Jews) was 2805, the rest were from the so-called upper trade schools and 
older cohorts who had graduated from high school in previous years. (Data from the Hungarian 
Statistical Yearbook) 

Maria M Kovdcs 

of Christian students surpassed the 1911/12 numbers with 2 137. However, 
once the backlog from the war years was cleared, a surplus of two thousand 
Christian students, as compared to pre-war levels, was not at all so easy to 
produce, especially as the number of Christian high-school diplomas did not 
increase significantly. 

So, by 1924 the tide has changed. In 1924/25, the Budapest medical 
faculty for instance, would have needed 400 applicants to fulfill admission targets. 
After subtracting the 6% allotted to Jews, they still would have needed 376 
Christian applicants, but only 253 applied, followed by only 280 in 1925/6, 22 273 
in 1926/27 and 278 in 1927/8. In order to make up for the shortage of 

applicants, the Budapest faculty convinced first year Christian medical students 
from other universities in the country (Pecs, Szeged) to move to Budapest during 
the academic year, thus altering the racial balance of cohorts during the academic 
year in those universities. Even so, applicant numbers continued to decline until, 
in 1928 the admission target for the Budapest medical faculty was reduced by the 
minister of education to a little over half of what it had been before, from 400 to 
240. Similar reductions applied to other faculties and universities. The same 
shortage of applicants was characteristic of the technical university where, in 
1925, there were only 558 applicants for 670 allotted places, of whom only 472 
were acceptable. The field that did not experience this kind of shortage of 
Christian applicants consistently was law. 

But all in all, by the mid- 1920s, it gradually became clear that, having 
excluded the majority of Jewish high-school graduates from university studies, 
and having got rid of the backlog from the war, the number of Christian applicants 

19 In this year the actual number of high-school graduates continuing at universities and law 
academies (Jews and non-Jews) was 2638, lower than the figure for 1911. (Data from the 
Hungarian Statistical Yearbook). 

20 The number of high-school degrees issued (gimnazium es real iskola) to Christians was 3900 in 
1911/12, 4128 in 1912/13, 4452 in 1913/4, but only 3017 in 1919/20, 3533 in 1920/21, 3420 in 
1921/22, 3242 in 1922/23, 3558 in 1923/24, 3512 in 1924/25, 3819 in 1925/26. (Data from the 
Hungarian Statistical Yearbook.) Around a tenth of all applicants to higher education in 
institutions falling under the numerus clausus legislation were from the so-called upper trade 
schools. (Asztalos Jozsef, A magyar foiskolai hallgatok statisztikaja az 1930/31. tanevben, Bp. 
1932. 31. old. Given that an average of a third or more of all university students were first year 
students, these graduates would have had to make up for a yearly 3-400 Christian applicants. This 
target was not easily reachable, even if all those exiting high-school (gimnazium and realiskola) 
would have applied to universities, which was, of course, not the case. The ratio of high-school 
graduates continuing at universities was 1919/20:42.6%, 1920/21: 47.6%, 1921/22: 52.4%, 
1922/23: 45.4%, 1924/25: 51.5%. (Data from the Hungarian Statistical Yearbook). 

21 SOTE Leveltar, A budapesti kir. Magyar Pazmany Peter tudomanyegyetem orvoskari 
tanartesttiletenek 1924 szeptember 10-en tartott I. rendes tilese; Uo. 1925 szeptember 10-en tartott 
I. rendes tiles. Ld. meg Haller (1926), 144, 233. 

22 U. 0.1925. szept.10, 1, rendes tiles, 1926. szept.7. 1, rendes tiles. 
23 U.o. 1927. III. rendes tiles. 

24 U.o. 1928. okt. 9. II. rendes tiles. 

25 . BME LT. 3/a, 5, 1926. (Council of the Technical University [Muegyetemi tanacs] 11 

November 1926.) 


Maria M Kovacs 

to universities was hardly enough to satisfy government-set admissions targets at 
many faculties, even if those were reduced to the pre-war level. 26 It emerged 
that the law conceived in the hysterical atmosphere of 1920, which established 
government-set admission targets and the Jewish quota, was based on false 
premises: neither the refugees, nor the Christian middle class of post-Trianon 
Hungary applied to the universities in the numbers of the sort of blind panic that 
might have justified the whole measure. Once the backlog from the war was 
cleared, the conceptual, besides the moral, weakness of the numerus clausus law 
became evident: the assumption that there would be at least an overall 25% 
increase in Christian high-school graduates interested in university education to 
fill places on the level of the pre-war years after the exclusion of most of the Jews 
was, in itself, seriously questionable. 

Conservatives and radicals 

It is an axiomatic element of the discourse on the numerus clausus that the 
law was born of the struggle, and horse-trading, of the extreme Right and the 
conservative Right. According to this view, the Jewish quota was forced onto the 
conservative Right by the political force of the extreme Right and anti-Semitic 
student associations, while the conservative Right was generally against the 
introduction of the Jewish quota. According to this view, the Teleki government 
introduced the numerus clausus law in order to „disarm" the popular anti-Semitic 
mood which was prevalent following the Revolutions, and to „take the wind out 
of the sails" of the radical Right. The Bethlen government used this reasoning to 
justify the origin and continued existence of the law for years during the League 
of Nations' enquiries. This justification is deceptive, though, insofar as it creates 
the mistaken impression that it was only the extreme Right that supported the 
Jewish quota, while the country's conservative leaders disapproved of it. But 
Prime Minister Teleki certainly did not introduce the law merely because of 


pressure from the extreme Right. Teleki was in fact very much in favor of the 
Jewish quota. Prior to its introduction he publicly declared that „if possible, the 
places for Jews in the intellectual sphere, should be proportionally reduced", and 


in order to achieve this, an institutional answer was required. His government 
did not try to silence the anti-Semitic student groups, but rather encouraged 
them. A month after the law's introduction in September of 1920, the Teleki 
government issued a decree that strengthened its strictures, and allowed for the 
admissions committees certifying „patriotic spirit" to contain two student 
members of anti-revolutionary organizations. It was these committees that 

16 Haller 1926, pp. 144 and 233. 

27 Balazs Ablonczy, „Epilogue", Balazs Ablonczy (ed.) Selected political writings and speeches of 
Pal Teleki, Budapest, 2000, p. 552. 

28 Pesti Elet, 15 September 1919, p. 3 

29 Zinner (1989), p. 79. The campaigns at the universities were led by the „Ebredo Magyarok" 
['Wakening Magyars']. 

Maria M Kovacs 

eventually removed several thousand upper-cohort Jewish students from 



The cases of other moderate conservative leaders, as Istvan Bethlen and 
Klebelsberg were different. For a start, the taking of unnecessary international 
risks was far from Bethlen's political style, since - as he said - „the country has 
much greater problems than the Jewish Question", and the resolution of these 

-5 1 

problems could not be made subordinate to any second-rate troubles. That 
notwithstanding, it cannot be said of either Bethlen or Klebelsberg that they 
opposed the law, once they got it „ready- made" from the Teleki government. 
They both defended it for years against domestic and international criticism. 
And when - at the end of the 1920s - Bethlen and his circle did decide that this 
anti- Jewish action had to be discontinued (at least on paper), Teleki turned against 
them and vigorously defended the paragraph on race, thereby belatedly 
reinforcing that it had not been against his better conscience that his government 
introduced the quota in the autumn of 1920. 

The line between the conservative and the radical Right in the matter of 
the numerus clausus therefore, was not nearly as sharp as it might have been. In 
fact, Bethlen himself considered the quota a useful tool, with the help of which - 
as he put it - the position of the Jews in Hungary could be sufficiently weakened 
until the members of the non- Jewish middle class, who represented the „race 
conforming to historical tradition" would be „the leaders of the nation once 


more". However - ran Bethlen's thinking - it would be quite improper to allow 
domestic struggles over the Jewish question to 'get in the way of international 
aims. Bethlen put off the radicals because they wanted to place their anti- 
Semitic views at the center of Hungarian political life, „on the shelf of the lone 
star ruling the sky of Hungarian politics", while they ignored the „much larger, 
much more burning, more dangerous problems which threatened the life of the 
nation, as if these were not [the problems] that ought in the first place to guide the 

-5 C 

compass of Hungarian political life". Bethlen thought that obsessive anti- 
Semitism crippled the problem solving capacity of Hungarian political life. 
During the course of the 1920s, he increasingly distanced his government from 

30 VKM 136.515/1920 qualifying decree 19 October 1920. 

31 Istvan Bethlen's speech, Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyulesi Naplo], 1922. vol XV, ( 27 July 
1923), p. 176. 

32 According to Ignac Romsics, author of the most reliable biography Bethlen - although he did 
not comment on the matter - „most likely" agreed with the anti-Semitic ramifications of the 
numerus clausus (Romsics, 1991, p. 113.) 

33 Bethlen's 1925 interview with the press is quoted in Ignac Romsics: Bethlen Istvan. Politikai 
eletrajz [Istvan Bethlen, a political biography], Osiris, Budapest, 1991, p. 201 

34 Istvan Bethlen's speech, Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyulesi Naplo], 1922. vol XV, ( 27 July 
1923), p. 176. 

35 Istvan Bethlen's speech in Debrecen, 8th May 1922, in Speeches and writings of Count Istvan 
Bethlen [Bethlen Istvan grof beszedei es irasai], Budapest, Genius publishers, vol. I, p. 236. See 
also p. 128. 


Maria M Kovacs 

political anti-Semitism. He nonetheless did not end the Jewish quota until the 
League of Nations initiated determined action against Hungary. And when he did 
modify the law in 1928, he approved the recommendations of his Minister of 
Culture which, no longer with declared racial quotas, but now with quotas on the 
occupational position of the father, still served to exclude Jews. 

The sociological reasoning 

The third important element of numerus clausus discourse, also inherited 
from the 1920s, is the assertion that the anti-Semitic law was necessary in order to 
slow the frightening over-burgeoning of people with university degrees, or - as 
Kuno Klebelsberg, the Minister of Culture, noted at the 1925 conference of the 
League of Nations, to protect „against the development of an intellectual 
proletariat." 36 

Despite rehearsing this apologia in international fora, even Klebelsberg 
himself did not believe it. He said as much, exposing himself to the charge that he 
adapted his views to suit the audience he was addressing. „I never associated 


myself with this law", he told the press in 1927, „I merely inherited it." As for 
the theories about the glut of intellectuals, he labeled them simple demagoguery: 
„Unfortunately in Hungary, one can achieve absolutely anything with slogans. 
The talk of the glut of intellectual proletarians is just such a slogan, which may 
have dangerous consequences... School is school, you can't make a socio-political 
or economic question out of it." 38 The thought that the surplus of university 
graduates could be prevented with state intervention, Klebelsberg labeled a 
straight impossibility", which „takes us down an impassable road" and leads to 
political conflict. 

But there were aspects of the numerus clausus law that Klebelsberg, 
despite all this, did approve of. Even if he did not agree with the existence of the 
official Jewish quota, he did agree that Jews should somehow be kept out of the 
universities. In his 1926 private letter to Bethlen, he suggested that the exclusion 
of Jews from the universities should be achieved by means other than the official 
quota. „As a lawyer, I can see quite clearly that, the way our law is currently 
phrased, we can not approach the Cour permanent in the Hague with any hope of 
success... We will therefore have to revise the law, not in order again to unleash 
thousands of Jewish university students on the nation, but rather in order to 
conserve the meaning of the enterprise by taking certain rational actions. In this 
regard, I have my ideas (autonomous admissions committees at the universities; 
stressing, alongside intellectual ability or talent shown in one or two subjects, the 

36 MOL, K 305, VKM Document Fragments, Count Kuno Klebelsberg's address to the League of 
Nations concerning the numerus clausus, 1925, XL 30. 

37 MT1 Survey of the Hungarian Press [Magyar lapszemle], 21 October 1927. http://archivl920- (201 1-03-07) 

38 Pesti Naplo, 4 September, p. 5. 

39 Ibid. 

Maria M Kovacs 

rating of comportment and physical education, etc.)... I would consider the 
complete opening of the floodgates a catastrophe, and therefore I think it is 
necessary to construct, with the co-operation of discreet Christian politicians, a 
text that will give no pretext for interference from Geneva or the Hague." All of 
Klebelsberg's suggestions are to do with how the anti-Jewish restrictions deleted 
from the letter of the law could continue to be maintained in practice. 


A vocal part of the extreme Right did not in fact envision the introduction 
of the Jewish quota within the framework of a higher education law at all, but 
wanted a much broader anti- Jewish law affecting all branches of the economy. 
The statistician who elaborated the statistical background of the Jewish quota, 
Alajos Kovacs, was in favor of regulations that would change the differences 
apparent in the „social status" of Jews and non-Jews: they would reduce the 
proportion of the bourgeoisie and liberal professionals among Jews. According 
to Kovacs, Jews held a disproportionate amount of the national wealth and 
income, at around 20-25%. It was this proportion that he would have liked to have 
seen reduced to the 5.9% that reflected the proportion of Jews within the overall 
national population. 

The logical sequence of Kovacs' proportionality" program would have 
been that the exclusion of Jews should have started in those branches in which 
they were present in the greatest proportion, principally the banking and trade 
sectors. Compared to the proportion of these two sectors Jews occupied in 1920, 
their proportion of 13.4% in the liberal professions and civil service as a whole 
was not so high: in the banking sector, 80.6% of directors and 43.7% of 
employees were Jewish; while in the trading sector, 53.6% of self-employed 
merchants and 48.2% of employees were Jewish. 

At the beginning of the '20s, though, there was no realistic expectation that 
the Hungarian state would regulate the workings of an economy based on the 
principle of private property, with a racial quota system. It was unthinkable that 
there be legislation to dictate to firms from which religion or race they could hire 
employees, and from which not: this historic change did not come to pass right up 
until 1938. In the international political climate of the 1920s, anti- Jewish 
employment regulations could only be effected in areas where the state itself was 
the employer, principally in the civil service, from where - by means of 
compulsory retirements - they got rid of most Jewish employees. 

40 Miklos Szinai and Laszlo Sziics (eds.) The secret documents of Istvan Bethlen [Bethlen Istvan 
titkos iratai], Budapest, Kossuth, 1972, pp. 256-257. 

41 Alajos Kovacs: „The extent of Jewry in Hungary" [A zsidosag terfoglalasa Magyarorszagon] , 
Budapest, 1922. 

42 Alajos Kovacs (1938), p. 64. 


Maria M Kovacs 

The over-representation of Jews among the university-educated 

Under Kovacs' proportionality" program, the role of the Jewish quota in 
the universities was to „eke out space" for the children of the Christian middle 
class. However, soon after the introduction of numerus clausus, it became 
apparent that the program was based on a mistaken premise. It turned out that 
despite forcing the majority of Jewish students out of the universities, non- Jewish 
families could not, or did not want to send their children to university in 
significantly larger numbers. The truth was that prior to the numerus clausus, 
Jewish students did not block the entry of non-Jews to universities. The law 
regulated a field that had previously not had any kind of limits on attendance. The 
proportion of Jewish students was indeed high. But this was not because Jewish 
students occupied „too many" in a system with a defined number of places. 
Rather, it was the number of „Christian" applicants, put into contrast with the 
Jewish students that did not live up to expectations. The phenomenon of "Jewish 
overrepresentation" at the universities of which the Jews were accused was not the 
result of an exclusionary rivalry between Jewish and non- Jewish students in a 
zero-sum game. Indeed, Jews were present among university students in a 
proportionally high number because a greater proportion of Jewish youths went to 
high school than their non- Jewish counterparts, and a greater proportion of Jewish 
high school graduates enrolled at university than non- Jewish ones. 

The highly politicized statistical literature of the day tended nonetheless, 
for campaign purposes, to exaggerate the space Jews „took up" among educated 
professionals. Arguments in this literature were based on the statistical fact that in 
1920, the 13.4% proportion of Jews in the educated liberal professions and the 
civil service exceeded the 5.9% proportion of Jews in the overall population of the 
country. 44 Even if the facts used were correct, the interpretations put on them 
were used in a demagogic fashion. 

Three quarters of the Jewish population was urban, while the majority of 
the non- Jewish population lived in rural communities, that is to say, villages. 5 It 
is obvious that if we compare a mostly urban population with a mostly rural 
population in a purely mechanical way, the mostly urban group will exhibit a 
higher degree of educational achievement and as a result, will have a higher 
proportion of members engaged in the educated professions. This was particularly 
so among the poorer classes, who - although they could afford to have their 
children educated in their own city - could not bear the cost of sending their 
children somewhere else to continue their studies. It is not surprising that the 
exclusion of Jews after 1920 did not bring about changes in the educational 
tendencies of the rural population. In 1914, the children of agricultural labourers 

43 Karadyl977,p. 251. 

44 Alajos Kovacs (1938), p. 67. 

45 Gyani,p. 215. 

Maria M Kovacs 

made up 0.6% of all university students, their absolute numbers remained under 
50, and this number did not rise even after the introduction of the Jewish quota: 
in 1930, of the 16 930 students at university, a total of 49 persons came from such 
families. The children of tenant farmers made up a total of 6.3% of all university 
students in 1914, and after the introduction of the numerus clausus, this number 
remained similar right up until the middle of the 1930s. 7 Given that within the 
social pyramid, these rural classes made up the majority of the population, it was 
irrational to compare the over-representation of the three-quarters urban Jewish 
population with the data of the mostly rural agrarian population. 

In order to get an image of the degree of over-representation of Jews free 
of demagoguery, we have to compare their data not to the overall population of 
the country - which was still mostly rural - but to the urban population. In the 
capital, for instance, where nearly a quarter of the population was Jewish, the 25- 
28% of university students who were Jews is not nearly as disproportionate as the 
heavily ideological statistical literature of the day made out. 

Contemporary observers had also noted these problems in the use of data 
and interpretations, which exaggerated the amount of space Jews „took up" years 
before the introduction of the numerus clausus law. The Christian Socialist 
politician, Sandor Giesswein warned in 1917 that the high rate of urbanization 
among Jews lay behind the phenomenon: „First of all, a much greater percentage 
of Jewish children live in the cities than Christian children, and has concomitantly 
greater access to the means of education and learning than Christian children. 
Second, the Jewish child is allowed to learn, whether he be a rag-picker's or a 
banker's son. Among Christians, however, it is mostly only the sons of the upper 
classes, the gentry and the intelligentsia who make it to the halls of learning..." 

Additionally, the participation of Jews in all levels of education - beneath 
university level - was also higher than that of non-Jews: Alajos Kovacs held the 
degree of difference to be simply „horrifying". 49 While in 1910, 31% of the 
overall population was illiterate, only 13% of Jews were counted as such and even 
in their case the knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet was not counted. " The 
educational indicators of the Jewish populace were better at all levels than that of 

46 Rudolf Andorka, The social composition of students at the universities and polytechnics [Az 
egyetemi es foiskolai hallgatok tarsadalmi osszetetele] 1898-1942, Statistical Review [Statisztikai 
Szemle], 1979/2, p. 178. The numbers of the children of agricultural workers began to increase 
somewhat from the middle of the 1930s thanks to the establishment of various scholarships. 

47 Rudolf Andorka, The social composition of students at the universities and polytechnics [Az 
egyetemi es foiskolai hallgatok tarsadalmi osszetetele] 1898-1942, Statistical Review [Statisztikai 
Szemle], 1979/2, p. 183. The children of smallholders made up 6.3% of university students 
between 1914-19, 7.7% between 1920-25, 7.2% from 1925-29, and 6.7% in 1930. 

48 „The Jewish Question in Hungary" [„A zsidokerdes Magyarorszagon"] A Survey of the 
Twentieth Century [Huszadik Szazad Korkerdese,] Budapest, 1917, pp. 86-87. 

49 Alajos Kovacs (1922), p. 29. 

50 True, the 1910 census declared only 87% of Jews literate, but this was because those Jews who 
could only read or write in Hebrew were officially counted as illiterate. Miklos Szabo, The 
Chosen People of Modernisation [A modernizacio kivalasztott nepe], Mozgo Vilag, September 
2000, 26/9, 


Maria M Kovacs 

the non- Jewish population. 51 In 1910, of Jewish boys aged 19 or older, 18.2% had 
high-school diplomas, while for Catholics the figure was 4.2%, and Protestants, 
3.9%. More than a third of all high-school graduates were Jewish, at 35.4%. 

The link between education, urbanization and the professional structure 
was obvious to contemporary observers. This is what Vilmos Vazsonyi 
highlighted in saying that the comparison of the educational data of the mostly 
urbanized Jewish populace with the mostly agrarian non- Jewish populace was a 
„fallacy" that was bound to produce false results: „If I am honestly looking for the 
proportion, I have not to look at the proportion of the country overall that sends 
their children to university, but the proportion of the urban population that sends 
its children to university." 5 And since the proportion of Jews among the urban 
populace was 13% in 1920, the 13.4% of the jobs in the „civil service and liberal 
professions" held by Jews was, in fact, proportionate to the proportion of Jews in 
the urban population. Applying this standard, we get a completely different 
picture of the degree of „over-representation" too. We find that in 1920, of the 
country's 57,966 Christian university graduates, only one fifth (1 1,105) worked in 
professions where the proportion of Jews exceeded 13%. And despite the 
proportion of Jewish graduates being lowest (at 4.9%) in the group which 
employed the most - around 30,000 members - of the university-educated 
intelligentsia, the civil service, this was not a feature that would have been 
emphasized by anti-Semitic propaganda. The presence of Jews was much more 
obvious in those liberal professions where, although their real numbers were far 
smaller (at a few thousand people), the proportion of the whole they made up was 
unusually high - as for example among doctors, pharmacists, or lawyers. 

True, in some of these professions, such as the medical or legal 
professions, the over-representation of Jews - by any measure - was salient: 
49.4% of lawyers or legal trainees, and 46.3% of doctors were Jewish. But these 
were small professions, accounting for less than one fifth of the Hungarian 
university-educated intelligentsia; although it is also true that it was a fifth with a 
loud voice, which created the false impression of the Jews' „taking up of space" 
was the biggest concern facing the Hungarian intelligentsia. Ede Alfoldy, a judge, 
explained this overreaction in the columns of „Huszadik Szazad" [Twentieth 
Century] by arguing that Jews had been excluded for so long from educated 
positions, that when this prohibition ceased following emancipation, Hungarian 
society could not come to terms with the new situation. „First and foremost, as for 
the accusation that the better social positions are awash with Jews, let us not 
forget when considering this, our traditional prejudice that deems it natural that 

51 Karady (1997) p. 17, and Tibor Peter Nagy, The growing influence of the state in Hungarian 
education, 1867-1945, Iskolakultura 2005/6-7, 

52 Alajos Kovacs (1922), p. 29. 

53 Alajos Kovacs (1922), p. 31. 

54 Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyulesi Naplo], 1922. Vol XXXVIII, p. 220 (12 December 1925). 

55 Alajos Kovacs (1938), p. 61. 

Maria M Kovacs 

Jews be excluded from any significant position in public life, which makes even 
insignificant gains on their part look like the gathering of untrammeled power. 
Even the appearance of Jews in field where we are not used to their presence 
gives the impression that some unscrupulous intrusion has taken place." " 

The extent to which the Jewish intelligentsia „took up space" was also 
enlarged by the fact that in everyday language, intelligentsia" referred not only to 
university graduates, but to all those who were engaged in white collar work. 
Anti-Semitic politicians frequently complained of the „Judaisation" of professions 
which did not even require university degrees, so it would seem more logical for 
them to have demanded not so much a quota on university students, but a numerus 
clausus on places in high schools. But in the end, the numerus clausus law created 
anti-Jewish restrictions only for university students. At the same time, the 
restrictions on women's rights to education in force prior to 1918 were also re- 
established. The intervention against female university students also had an anti- 
Jewish edge, since more than half of female medical students (62%) were Jewish, 
while in the humanities, this figure was 48%. 57 

Antisemitism and the provocation law" 

The Christian middle classes could not expect direct advantages from the 
numerus clausus law. What could be expected at most was that in the long run 
(over decades), it would reduce the number of Jewish graduate professionals. 
Immediately palpable benefits could only have been expected if the numerus 
clausus was extended to the professional occupations that required a graduate 
degree - medicine, law, engineering, teaching, etc. But this was still unthinkable 
in the Europe of the 1920s. 

It was therefore obvious to contemporary observers that the numerus 
clausus in the universities was not an instrument for dealing with any kind of 
social problem. The smallholder, Rezso Rupert, called the numerus clausus a 
provocation law", a „pinprick law" which, although it „put stakes" in the gates of 
the universities, could not alleviate the economic woes of the intelligentsia, and 
was only good for „provoking Jewry and with it, the world". Karoly Grecsak, 
Minister of Justice in the Wekerle government (1917-1918), was of a similar 
opinion. He noted that the university numerus clausus did not solve any social 
problem, because it was no more than „a hate law conceived in hysteria". 5 
Grecsak was of course not using the expression „hate law" in the meaning 
common today, but in the sense that the law was born out of hatred and its goals 
was precisely to maintain and elevate into a norm that anti-Jewish feelings which 

56 A Survey of the Twentieth Century [Huszadik Szazad Korkerdese], Budapest, 1917, p. 42. 

57 Maria M. Kovacs, The turning point of Hungarian Feminism [A Magyar Feminizmus 
korszakforduloja], Cafe Babel, 1994, 1-2, pp. 179-183. 48% of the students of humanities were 
Jewish in 1918. 



Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyulesi Naplo], 1920. Vol. V., p. 421 (20 September 1920) 
PalBethlen(1925),p. 29. 


Maria M Kovdcs 

was inflamed throughout the country during the War and the revolutions. The 
provision of the law that gave the university admissions councils the right to judge 
the applicant's patriotism", and disbar applicants, who had taken part in the 
revolutions or belonged to left-wing organizations, served a similar purpose. 

Hungary's new political establishment that gained power after 1920 did 
not consider it their task to protect the country's Jewish citizens from such 
feelings. In the person of Pal Teleki, who took over the running of the country in 
the summer of 1920, the country had a leader who thought that the emancipation 
of the Jews had been a historical error that „had to be corrected" even by means of 
„the stripping of rights" if necessary." 

After a year, when Teleki's place was taken at the country's helm by 
Istvan Bethlen, anti-Semitism was suppressed in government-level politics. But 
despite the fact that anti-Semitism which occasionally popped up in Bethlen' s 
appearances before the war, had, by the 1920s, disappeared from Bethlen' s 
political rhetoric, he himself was not free of anti-Semitic stereotypes. Bethlen, as 
many anti-Semites, also used false generalizations of the Jewish conspiracy theory 
to explain the turn of historical events: Bethlen, too, found the reasons for the 
outbreak of the left-wing revolutions in the actions of the Jews. In his opinion, the 
„majority" of Jews had taken part in the left-wing revolutions, whereas out of the 
almost half a million Hungarian Jews, only two to three thousand can be said to 
have participated in the revolutions. Bethlen was not exaggerating in saying that 
there had been a conspicuously large number of Jewish leaders in the Hungarian 
Soviet Republic, but he did not take into account that non-Jews also took part in 
the revolution, and that it was only a tiny minority of Jews who actively 
participated in the revolutions. 

The leading politicians of the 20s, being themselves prejudiced when it 
came to Jews, reacted ambiguously when it came to the politics of anti-Semitic 
scapegoating. Though they acted against the anti-Semitic acts of violence that 
severely threatened foreign opinion of the country, but they sympathized with 
those who presented the Hungarian Soviet Republic as a Jewish revolution, and 
accordingly named „the Jews" as responsible for the revolution, and as the ones to 
be held to account. 63 

In this mentality, foreign and Hungarian, rich and poor, communist or non- 
communist Jews were conflated: the Jews bore the burden of collective 
responsibility. As Rezso Rupert said: this was the populist mechanism which 

60 The action merely codified events: the majority of left-wing students had been removed from the 
universities through disciplinary actions by the time the law was passed in the autumn of 1920. 
Ladanyi, 1979, p. 161. 

61 I.m. p. 383. Presenting his programme as Prime Minister, Teleki promised that his government 
would take steps institutionally to protect the interests of Christian society". Ablonczy (2005), p. 
172. Teleki outlined his programme on the 22nd July 1920. 

62 ibid. 

63 According to Gusztav Gratz's data, 32 of the 45 commissars were Jewish. Gusztav Gratz, The 
Age of Revolutions, history of Hungary 1918-1920 [A forradalmak kora, Magyarorszag tortenete 
1918-1920], Budapest, 1935, p. 102. 

Maria M Kovacs 

made it possible to generalize - even by law - the 'guilt' of a few to hundreds of 
thousands, even millions." 64 In this mentality, there was no contradiction in 
concurrently applying racial and political, even gender-based arguments: 
university applicants were to be judged not only on the basis of their origins, but 
also from the point of view of what political „behavior" they had demonstrated 
prior to 1920; in other words, if they are „patriotic" enough. The use of racial and 
political criteria together cast suspicion on leftists as being „Jews", and Jews as 
being automatically left-wing. This served to reinforce the conviction that the left- 
wing revolutions served some kind of special „Jewish" interest. 

The numerus clausus law was above all a product of this mentality. It was 
an anti- Jewish law, which - after 1920 - punished Hungarian Jewry as a group 
without consideration of the culpability of the individual concerned, for the losses 
which Hungary suffered as a result of the War. The racial quota was thus linked 
with the post-revolutionary anti-leftist political cleanup: the same paragraph, 
which institutionalized the racial quota, tied university admissions to demands of 
patriotism and moral uprightness", and thereby conflated the political cleanup 
with the exclusion of Jews. 65 

The concept behind the racial paragraph 

Calls for the Jewish quota had been present in Hungarian public life from 
turn of the century, but these calls did not carry decisive strength before 1918. The 
concept behind the numerus clausus really gained ground only at the time of the 
War and the revolutions. The novelty in the political situation following the 
revolutions was that - in contrast to previous times - the country's political 
leaders did not resist the powers calling for the numerus clausus, and finally, by 
introducing the law, raised political anti-Semitism to a government level; on the 
basis of collective guilt, they designated an entire group of people as scapegoats. 

The government level policy of rescinding of rights to education on the 
basis of race set the Hungarian numerus clausus apart from the other uses of anti- 
Jewish numerus clausus in the Western world. In the United States and Canada, 
numerous universities (e.g. Harvard, Yale, and Columbia) introduced anti-Jewish 
quotas at around the same time as the Hungarian numerus clausus and many 
medical schools also capped the number of Jewish students. But in these 
countries, the anti- Jewish quota was never elevated to the level of government 
action or into law. The students excluded from one university or another could 
continue their studies in other universities within the same state. In Eastern 

64 Rezso Rupert's minority opinion on the second Jewish law, Documents of the Chamber of 
Deputies [Kepviselohazi iromanyok], 1935, vol. XII, p. 514, 3rd February 1939. 

65 „When approving applications, as well as patriotism and moral rectitude, the applicant's 
intellectual capacities should be taken into consideration, not forgetting that the proportion of 
students of each ethnicity should reach the proportion of that ethnicity living within the boundaries 
of the country, or at least represent nine tenths of that figure." 


Maria M Kovdcs 

Europe, the numerus clausus was on the agenda from the 1920s on in Romania, 
Poland, and Lithuania, and while it didn't pass into law in any of those countries 
until the 1930s, in Romania and Poland, from the 1920s on, universities and 
polytechnics instituted „in-house" anti- Jewish quotas, without any legal authority. 
It is not unimaginable that it was not precisely because of the large number of 
Jewish students excluded from the Hungarian educational system and trying to 
find places in Prague and Brno that demands for the numerus clausus appeared in 
the Czech parliament too. 66 In Austria, the numerus clausus was introduced 
following the Anschluss. 

The significance of the law and the legends surrounding it 

For international diplomatic reasons, the Bethlen government de- 
emphasized the seriousness and significance of the Hungarian Jewish quota. The 
government elaborated an entire set of defense arguments that worked to make the 
law seem milder for the League of Nations inquiries, in the hope that Hungary 
would be relieved of the charges of discrimination. The legends survived the 
Bethlen government; in fact, elements of them still determine historical thinking 
today. The first of these legends is that from the moment of its introduction on, 
the Jewish quota was not enforced with uniform vigor throughout the country. 
This legend is, however, false. 

Let's look first of all at the statistics. The law capped the proportion of 
Jewish students who could be admitted to the first year of graduate study at 6%. 
Nonetheless, in the table below, we see that between 1920 and 1937, the 
proportion of Jews in higher education was higher than 6%. This statistical 
difference is the source of that now commonplace legend that the Jewish quota 


was never consistently observed throughout the entire country. 

The legend is based on the erroneous interpretation of the statistics and the 
numerus clausus law. For the figures below from the Central Office of Statistics 
show the university students from all cohorts, whereas the numerus clausus law 
did not impose a quota on all cohorts, but only on those applying for the first year 
of university. 69 The question of whether the quota was observed at 6% in its first 

66 MTI News Boradcast, 30th November and 2 December 1922; http://archivl920- 
1 1 . 

67 MTI News Boradcast, 22 January 1923; 
PDFSearch.aspx?Pmd=l (201 1-02-22) 

68 The table presents the numbers and proportions of students in all higher education institutions, a 
small part of which did not fall under the numerus clausus legislation. However, the proportions 
are still comparable: the number of Jews at such institutions was minimal. The proportion of Jews 
solely in universities and law academies, falling strictly under the numerus clausus legislation was, 
on average, 0.5-1.5% higher than among all higher education students. 

69 According to the second paragraph of the law, the restrictions did not apply to those students 
who were not starting their first year, but continuing their studies in one of the higher years. This 
was reinforced in the enacting clause; (2011- 

Maria M Kovdcs 

year cannot be settled by looking at the proportion of Jews in higher education as 
a whole - including the higher years, which had not been subject to the numerus 
clausus. The question of whether the universities observed the numerus clausus 
law can only be judged in light of the statistics of first year students, since the law 
applied only to admissions for the first year of university. But official statistics 
were not published until the late 1920s on the composition of the first year. 

It is a fact that the Bethlen government itself obfuscated the data for the 
League of Nations inquiries: instead of presenting the data for the first year only, 
it presented the data for all the years, and instead of the data for the capital, they 
took the data for the provinces. All this, however, was part of their manipulative 

Instead of looking at the total percentage proportions, which were 
manipulated eclectically and at will, we should be clear about the real figures. The 
number of Jewish students at those universities and law colleges that fell under 
the aegis of the numerus clausus after 1920 was 6,027 in the academic year 1917- 


18. This number had shrunk to 1,712 by 1920-21: therefore in the first year of 
the application of the law, there was a 4,315 capita reduction in the number of 
Jewish students. The biggest reduction was at the University of Budapest, where 
the number of Jewish students was reduced by 3,880. 71 This huge reduction was 
possible by not clearing several thousand higher year Jewish students, students 
with so-called „vested rights" on the patriotism" requirement. At the Humanities 
faculty in Budapest, for example, the proportion of higher year Jewish students 
dropped to 6.97%, despite it having been between 35-4% in the previous 


academic years, from 1913-14 - 1917-18. 

A small group of the over 3,000 higher year Jewish students excluded 
from Budapest - c. 500 people - were admitted to universities in Pecs and Szeged, 
where the universities of Bratislava and Cluj had been moved to be within the 
post-Trianon borders of the country, and which did not have enough Christian 
applicants to start their academic years, following the move. The numerus 
clausus law did not forbid the admission of higher year Jewish students, since it 
applied only to first-year admissions. 

70 Haller (1926), p. 130. The data are to be understood as not including the polytechnics. In the 
colleges of law, there were 237 Jewish students in this year; figures have only remained for 1921- 
22 for the polytechnics (with the exception of the School of Theatrical Arts), when there were 
altogether 24 Jewish students in these institutions. 

71 Haller (1926), p. 135. 

72 Haller (1926), p. 134. 

73 There were altogether 777 Jewish students at the universities of Szeged and Pecs in 1920-21 
(Haller, 1926, p. 134). Given that in 1917-18 the two universities had 311 Jewish students, and 
that of these only a negligible number graduated in 1918-19, those with „vested rights" continued 
at the universities, the Jewish students who „properly" belonged to the two universities was around 


Maria M Kovacs 

Numbers and proportion of Jewish students enrolled in the second 
semester at universities and other higher education institutions among all 
students: 1910-1943 

Academic Year 

Total Number of Students 

Jewish Students 




















No data 

No data 

No data 





































































































Source: Hungarian Statistical Yearbook [Magyar Statisztikai Evkonyv], 
1910-1943 and Alajos Kovacs (1938, p. 73). For the years marked with a star, see 
Andor Ladanyi (2005), p. 68. 

Selective registration 

But as for the admission of first-years, even those provincial universities 
which took a higher proportion of Jews for the higher years, by and large 
observed the quota, though they may have occasionally overstepped the quota 


Maria M Kovacs 

with one or two percentage point, keeping in mind these universities were so 
small, that for example, in Pecs in 1920/21 the admission of a single Jewish 
student to the first year raised the proportion of Jews by 0.6%. 7 In Szeged for 
instance, despite admitting over 7% Jewish students to the third, fourth and fifth 
years of their medical course, the university already in 1921, had limited 
admissions of Jewish students to 7% for their first year of studies. The situation 
was similar at the University of Pecs. And if at these small universities, the 
percentage of Jewish first-year students did occasionally exceed 6% in the first 
year, this was not that the Jewish quota was not observed, but that, come the start 
of the academic year, many of the Christian applicants who had been admitted, 
simply did not show up, as in the fall of 1922 when in Szeged, 52 Christian first- 
year medical students left for studies in Budapest in a single year out of a cohort 
of about 130. 5 Since all the Jewish students admitted started their studies, their 
proportion grew somewhat, but this did not mean that even a single Jewish student 
more had been admitted than the quota proscribed. 7 Official statistics revealed 
none of these events during the admission cycle as they gave numbers and 
proportions for the end of the semester. 

Students of the Medical Faculty of the University of Szeged, academic 
year 1921-22, Jews/ Non-Jews 


Total Students 

Jewish Students 

Proportion of 
Jewish Students 






















Source: Parliamentary record [Nemzetgyulesi naplo], 1920. Vol. XVII, p. 
25. (9th of February 1922), speech by Geza Budavary 

The calculation is based on the assumption that a quarter of all students in a given year is in the 
first year which, at the early twenties was characteristic of provincial universities. 
75 For example, 150 students were accepted in 1920-21 to the first year of the medical course at the 
university of Szeged, but only 108 showed up. In the following year, 150 students were admitted 
to the mathematics and pharmaceutical courses, but only 57 appeared. Of those 57, 10 were 
Jewish, and they had been accepted within the original admissions framework in such a way that 
they would make up 6% of the students on each course. But since more than half of the Christian 
students admitted did not matriculate, the proportion of Jews grew to 1 8% without the university 
having admitted even a single extra Jewish student above the numbers allowed by the quota. 
Karoly Hoor, Numerus clausus at the universities of Pecs and Szeged [A numerus clausus a 
szegedi es a pecsi egyetemen], Budapest, 1923, p. 4. 
76 Haller(1926),p. 124. 


Maria M Kovdcs 

Klebelsberg, the Minister of Culture, himself gave an account in 
Parliament in 1924 of the phenomenon of „selective registration". Admissions 
permits, he noted, were issued by the universities of both Budapest and the 
regions in accordance with the Jewish quota. „It often happens, however, that 
Christian youths do not make use of their admissions permits, do not take up their 
place, and go on to another university. Those Jewish youths, however, who were 
granted such permits by the University of Pecs, took up their places without 
exception, as a consequence of which their number was already greater at 
registration than the permitted percentage." 77 

The decisions of the Admissions Committee of the Medical Faculty of 
the University of Szeged for January 1923 

7*l*aaM*yi icicle J»la*ik*** keraln^r.ek 

■;'-ot nir is roeg}ml»d]a as I.feleTrw fcelral 
coaot-t zeidok szama a ssgyarok slrcarada- 
ra. Kdatt. 

"The committee suggests rejecting all Jewish applicants because the 
proportion of Jews registered for the first year supersedes the lawful percentage as 
a result of Magyars having left." 

Source: Szeged University Archive, meeting of the medical faculty, 
January 12, 1923. 

The selective dropout rate 

Statistical differences resulting from selective dropping out also allowed 
for some manipulation of data to construct the legend according to which the 
small provincial universities did not at all apply the quota in their first year 
admission. The quota system gave birth to a sort of academic counter selection in 
the admissions process insofar as the meritocratic principle could only be applied 
in a very partial way during the process. The admissions boards did rank the 
Jewish students in order of accomplishment, but - at least in the case of the first- 
year students - only took this ranking into account until the 6% quota had been 
filled. The majority of Jewish students with good grades did not get admitted, 
while Christian students with weaker marks got in more easily. The principle of 
academic competition between the two groups did not really take effect: the 
academic results of the two groups were judged largely independently of one 

77 Parliamentary Diary [Nemzetgyiilesi Naplo] 1922, vol. XXIV, pp. 320-321 (4th June 1924) 

Maria M Kovacs 

another and independently served as the basis of the admissions decisions. At 
times the admissions boards did not even show the Jewish students' academic 
results. Such was, for example, the report of the Budapest Faculty of Medicine in 
1921, which broke down admissions into the following categories : 
„Christians with distinction at high school diploma level: 99 
Christians with good marks at high school diploma level: 116 
Christians with high school diplomas of average, or satisfactory grade: 138 
Born Jewish: 23" 

The effects of the process were observable in the dropout rates also. Of the 
students admitted to their first year in the Medical Faculty in Budapest in the 


1920s, which enforced the quota inflexibly, 4% did not finish their studies. The 
universities had to face the fact that having amitted a far larger number of 
Christian students than had been the case before the numerus clausus out of a pool 
of Christian high-school graduates whose numbers did not reveal a corresponding 
growth, the great majority of droupouts in most cases also came from among the 
Christians. The Minister of Culture, Klebelsberg, reported on the phenomenon of 
the selective dropout rate in Parliament, although he attributed the main cause of it 
to the poorer economic background of the Christian families: „My honoured 
friend Gombos said that although the numerus clausus is only six percent, there 
are over 1% of Jews in the universities. Why is this? In the first-year admissions, 
the numerus clausus is applied. This is due to the fact that there is another 
numerus clausus besides the legal one, and this is the numerus clausus of poverty, 
which affects those Christian children who often cannot continue their studies for 
the lack of financial means. I am referring here above all to the Technological 
University. For this reason, Christians fall behind, and the proportion of Jews 



The selective nature of registrations and the dropout rate also helps to 
explain why the decrease in the proportion of Jewish students was somewhat 
slower than would have been expected, based on the 6% quota effected in the first 
year university. It also explains why in 1925-26, when the Jewish students with 
„vested rights" had already disappeared from the system, the proportion of Jewish 
students among all university and polytechnic students was still around 8.25%. 
Given that the effects of the selective registrations and dropout rate were 
cumulative, that is to say that the gaps from the first year also affected the 
composition of the higher years, the proportions above reinforce the Minister's 
statement that the 6% Jewish quota for first-year admissions was by and large 
observed at all universities, even if deviations on a small scale existed. 

78 Katalin Szegvari (1988), p. 130. 

79 According to data by Balazs Kenyeres, the professor of medicine who played a key role in 
admissions and who was well-known for his racial supremacist views, Baron Sandor Koranyi's 
comment, Diary of the Upper House [Felsohazi Naplo], 1931, vol. II, p. 349 (24 June 1933). 

80 Diary of the Chamber of Deputies [Kepviselohazi naplo], 1927, vol. IX, p. 201 (23 February 


Maria M Kovdcs 

To summaries: the statement that the 6% Jewish quota on first-year 
admissions was not nationally applied is largely a legend, which the detailed data 
- broken down into year groups and bearing in mind the selective nature of 
registrations and the dropout rate - do not support. 

The Jewish quota after 1928: the legend of„abolition" 

The most misleading legend attached to the history of the numerus clausus 
is the assertion that the law was "abolished" in 1928. The legend of „abolition" 
started at the end of the 1920s, but lingers in historical publications to this day. Its 
nascence was made possible by the clever politics of the Bethlen government. The 
numerus clausus was not really abolished in 1928, but merely renamed; and the 
discrimination against Jews in the universities did not stop. The only truth in the 
legend is that the law's racial paragraph underwent some metamorphosis. 

Under pressure from the League of Nations, the Bethlen government did 
indeed formally remove the Jewish quota from the law in 1928. But on the other 
hand they introduced a new quota into the law, which was a so-called 
occupational quota. The goal of the new quota was the same as of the old one, to 
keep the Jews away from the universities, but to do it in such a way this time so as 
not to give the League of Nations any grounds for condemnation of Hungary for 
racial discrimination. Klebelsberg advised Prime Minister Bethlen two years 
before the modification to change the law, but to do so in such a way that the 
„thousands" of Jewish students should nonetheless be kept out of the universities. 
Bethlen in other words should bow to the League's pressure, but this concession 
should be purely formal. The government eventually replaced the racial quota 
with a quota that restricted the numbers of students to be admitted according to 
the occupation of the applicant's father. The internal proportions of the 
professional quota were developed in such a way as to prevent any significant 
increase of the proportion of Jews within the new system. 

The government did not wish to comment formally on the philosophy 
behind the modifications in 1928 - for understandable reasons - since the whole 
point of the exercise was so that the League of Nations could not continue to 
condemn Hungary for discriminating against Jews. Ten years later, however, 
when Hungarian politics was looking no longer in the direction of the League, but 
to Germany for friendship, the president of the Central Office of Statistics, Alajos 

81 The text of the law introducing the professional quota ran: „When granting permission, as well as 
considering the applicant's patrotisim and moral rectitude, the results of their highest level of 
academic study should be considered, as should their intellectual ability. In the first instance, the 
children of war widows and those with war service, of civil servants and other various occupations 
(agriculture, industry, trade, the liberal professions, etc.) should get to the polytechnics in the 
numbers in proportion to the numbers belonging to these occupations and their significance, and 
that the number of those admitted should be equitably distributed between the different 
municipalities." Documents of the Chamber of Deputies [Kepviselohazi iromanyok], 1927, vol. 
VI., p. 434. 

Maria M Kovacs 

Kovacs described in detail the internal logic of the 1928 professional quota. 
According to him: „that softer version of the numerus clausus that the late Count 
Klebelsberg, Minister of Culture, initiated - although it did not say openly that 
certain races are to be admitted to the universities in accordance with their 
proportion within the population - it... effectively serves the same purpose... 
Insofar as in the first [occupational] category, which includes about half the 
applicants, there are hardly any Jews, in the second half of the numbers... there 
would overwhelmingly have been smallholders... in the end, the proportion of 
Jews among the students would have been approximately equal to their proportion 
of the overall population." 

It was not hard to grasp the motives behind the changes. Lucien Wolf, ann 
Englishman, who wrote the report on the modification for the League of Nations, 
clearly saw that the new, occupational quota „can be used for anti-Semitic ends"; 
however, as he wrote, the starting point still has to be that the actions of the 
Hungarian government were „made in good faith." The League of Nations 
therefore did not concern itself with the hidden motives behind the new quota: it 
was satisfied that the Jewish quota as such had been taken out of the law. It 
considered the removal of the Jewish quota a symbolic victory, and did not expect 
anything more. The leaders of the Jewish community in Hungary felt the same, 
and hoped that the symbolic concessions would be followed by real change in due 

The government itself tried to appease opinion both at home and abroad. 
After 1928, in accordance with the expectations of the League of Nations, it raised 
the number of Jews allowed to be admitted to university (by a suitable minimal 
number). In the next four years, the proportion of Jewish students admitted 
increased (by around 250 people a year), from 8.8% in 1928-29 to 9.6% in 1930, 
10.5% in 1931, 12.3% in 1932, and 12.5% in 1933. All this however is by no 
means to say that Jewish students really enjoyed equal opportunities with their 
Christian counterparts. Under the new quota, in 1928 roughly half to 7% of 
Jewish applicants to university were rejected while for Christian students the 
rejection rate was 10-15%. The majority of Jewish youths with high school 
diplomas still did not have an opportunity to study further. 

Despite the exculpatory arguments of the Bethlen government for foreign 
consumption that protested that the proportion of Jewish students had risen above 
the old 6% quota, what was not mentioned was that even so, two thirds of Jewish 
students wishing to pursue their higher education could not get into university. 
There was a cynical game of propaganda played with the numbers and 
percentages. For, although the 12% of Jewish students did indeed represent an 
increase of 10% compared to the old quota of 6%, these figures disguised 
numbers that were very low to start off with; so, even a small numerical increase 
of these figures produced significant results when translated into percentages. 

82 Alajos Kovacs (1938), p. 39. 
83 Ladanyi(1979), p. 1131. 


Maria M Kovdcs 

Despite the populist propaganda surrounding the percentages, thousands of Jewish 
students hoping to continue their studies were still stranded outside of the 

To summaries, then: the racial quota was not „abolished" in 1928, but 
renamed. Let me record one more example here that challenges the myth of 
„abolition", this time from 1934. After Hitler's takeover of power, Hungarian 
racial supremacists demanded that the Hungarian government openly reinstate the 
explicit Jewish quota. The Gombos government was not inclined to this, but it 
was willing - without any legal framework, in line with the racial supremacists' 
demands - to decrease the proportion of Jewish students. The Minister of the 
Interior, Ferenc Fischer Keresztes declared in the Cabinet meeting in January 
1934 that „in the coming year, the proportion of Jews would be observed." 84 

Source: Cabinet Records [Minisztertanacsi Jegyzokonyv], 16 Januaryl934, 
p. 5. 

According to the record, Fischer Keresztes did not need to explain his 
meaning. He did not need to specify what proportion of Jews" he was referring 
to. He did not have to concern himself that such a „proportion" did not - in 
principle - exist in law following the modification of 1928; everyone present there 
in the Cabinet knew which „proportion" he was referring to, since the quota had 
never really been abolished, merely rechristened. The proportion of Jewish 
students immediately started to decrease following the Minister of the Interior's 
statement, and by 1935 had reached the lowest recorded proportion of the 1920s, 
while thousands of Jewish applicants were left outside the higher education 

All this of course does not mean that the trends supported by the numerus 
clausus could not conceivably have been subdued after the modification of 1928. 
Without that great turn in European politics that was the rise of Nazism, it could 
all have turned out differently. For example, the racial quota could initially have 
been renamed, while more, and some genuine reforms could have followed. This 
was the way events developed in the United States, where the few private 

' Records of the Cabinet of Ministers [Minisztertanacsi Jegyzokonyv], 16th January 1934, p. 5. 

Maria M Kovacs 

universities which imposed a Jewish quota came round to abolishing them only 
very slowly, by the 1950s. 

But in Europe, history took a different turn. In Hungary, the fourth 
paragraph of the second Jewish law of 1939 reinstated the explicit quota on Jews 
in the universities, and once again capped their proportion at 6% at universities 


and law colleges. 

The reinstatement of the open Jewish quota 

The Minister of Culture at this time, in 1939, was Balint Homan, who was 
not only a politician but - by profession - a historian. In his justification for the 
law, Homan gave a thorough historical survey. He noted that the seventh 
paragraph of the 1939 law did not, in fact, introduce anything new. It was merely 
a question of a formal step, since the Jewish quota in the universities had been in 
force continuously since 1920. Homan also explained that while in 1928 the law 
really was modified, it was changed „in form only" in such a way as to allow the 
professional quota which took the place of the ethnic quota, without „openly 
naming the Jews" to prevent the „spread of Jewry". 

The racial paragraph of the numerus clausus law therefore - despite a 
temporary and derisory relaxation - was in force throughout the entirety of the 
Horthy period. The law was in force for 14 of the 25 years of that period (1920- 
1928, 1939-1945). In a somewhat milder form, it was enacted in the form of the 
occupational quota between 1928 and 1933, and - although it was not officially in 
effect - was enacted by Ministerial decree even more strictly between 1934 and 
1939 than it had been in the 1920s. The effective use of the law was therefore 
continuous throughout the period, even if its effects were milder in the early years 
of the "occupational" quota. It is part of its history that that the proportion of 
Jewish students officially dipped below its lowest point from the 1920s (8.3%) in 
a year when the Jewish quota of 1920 was officially no longer, and the Jewish 
quota of 1939 was not yet, in effect (1936-7). The assertion therefore does not 
stand up that following the modification of the numerus clausus in 1928, anti- 
Jewish discrimination had disappeared from the network of Hungarian institutions 
and that the university Jewish quota was introduced a decade later, under foreign 

85 Lajos Zehery and Bela Terfy, The law regulating the presence of Jews in the public and trade 
sectors, 1939:IV. t.c. and its enacting clauses [A zsidok kozeleti es gazdasagi ter foglalasanak 
korlatozasarol szolo 1939:IV. t.c. es annak vegrehajtasarol szolo rendeletek], Budapest, 1939, p. 

86 Documents of the Upper House [Felsohazi iromanyok], justification of the ,,'regulation of the 
admissions of students to universities and polytechnics' draft law", 1939 vol. IV (15 November 
1940), pp. 187-188. Homan added that after 1928 the government acted by means of decrees and 
case-by-case interventions to endure that the Jewish quota was enforced. 


Peter Tibor Nagy 

Peter Tibor Nagy 

The first anti-Jewish law in inter-war Europe 

The Numerus Clausus - or Act 25 of 1920 - restricted the percentage of 
Jewish college and university students in Hungary to the Jewish percentage of the 
country's total population, thereby excluding a great majority of Jewish students 
from higher education. The history of the Act has been relatively well 
documented. Indeed, it is perhaps this aspect of modern Hungarian history that is 
best known to historians and educationalists around the world. The Act 
constituted the first restriction in modern Hungarian history on the process of 
Jewish integration and assimilation. Moreover it was the first so-called "Jewish 
law" in twentieth-century Europe. With the passing of the Act, Hungary became 
the first country to follow in the footsteps of Russia, which, in 1887, had decreed 
a "ceiling" on the number of Jews permitted to take part in secondary and higher 
education. ' 

My aim in this article is to examine this well-known historical issue 
within an analytical framework. 

Proposition 1 : Political and social groups permeated by different types of 
antisemitism (religious, anti-capitalist and anti-socialist) gathered into a coalition. 
This "extra-coalition" gave rise to the demand for the numerus clausus.. 

Proposition 2: Rational political considerations identified higher education 
as the field in which the process of Jewish emancipation could be stopped and 
possibly reversed. 

Proposition 3: The issue of whether or not to implement the provisions of 
the Act was determined by the relative strength of different pressure groups 
operating in the political arena, rather than by ideologies or values. 

From antisemitic sentiment to an acceptance of legal restrictions 

There is a well-known debate among historians about whether the 
development of antisemitism has been a continuous process in Europe ever since 
the Middle Ages (Kovacs: 1999). In my framework, I share the view that 
antisemitism has not been continuous. Indeed it would seem that different types of 
antisemitism have existed concurrently in different societies. The medieval type 
of antisemitism, the religious one, was still featured in the Tiszaeszlar blood libel 
case of 1882 - a case that achieved notoriety throughout Europe. The publication 
of the memoirs of the investigating magistrate working on the case - a man who 
had drawn considerable support from the local antisemitic peasantry and had 
accused the local Jewish community of carrying out ritual murder - was an 

1 The study is based on a paper presented at a conference organised at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes 
en Sciences Sociales in Paris in the autumn of 2000. It is partially overlapping with my study 
published in East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 35, No. 1, June 2005.. 

Peter Tibor Nagy 

enormous market success in the 1940s, demonstrating antisemitism's ability to 
survive despite decades of modernisation. Moreover, as we shall see, 
fundamentalist Catholic intellectuals were among the various proponents of the 
Numerus Clausus in 1919/1920. (Kubinszky: 1 976) 

The other type of antisemitism - a form based on anti-capitalist and "anti- 
finance" ideas and attitudes - was motivated by the Hungarian nobility's 
traditional views and way of life as well as romantic peasant anti-capitalism. 
(Szabo: 1970,1981) This traditional form of antisemitism was hostile to the social 
function performed by Jews itself and would have preferred a society in which the 
mediator function would not exist at all. (Berger, 1986) 

Unlike traditional antisemitism, the modern type does not hate, but it is 
envious of this function. This form of antisemitism is no less than an ideology 
based on the confiscation of this function. The exclusion of Jews from universities 
and from some professions was merely a means of accomplishing this 

At the end of the First Word War, antisemitism became an element in the 
competition between the various elites. Prior to the First World War, social roles 
in Hungary had been very distinct: the Christian middle classes had sent their sons 
to work for the state or for local government offices, while the Jewish middle 
classes had sent their sons to work in non-state-controlled sectors. Among market- 
controlled professions, the ratio of middle-class Jews was very high. Nationally, 
Jews comprised 42 % of all journalists, and in Budapest the ratio was 48 %. Jews 
also accounted for 53% of Hungary's commercial executives - and 64 % in 
Budapest (MSK, 56:570). Moreover 45 % of lawyers and 43 % of legal staff were 
Jewish. On the other hand, the Christian middle classes were over-represented 
amongst public officials. (MSK, 56: 775) 

After the 1920 peace treaty, which greatly reduced Hungary's territory, the 
country needed far fewer public officials. This meant that the Christian middle 
classes were obliged to secure positions outside the state-controlled areas. 

But we must also consider another factor: the modernisation of the state 
after the turn of the century gave rise to a new issue: namely, the need for greater 
state control in some areas. Several groups in society began to develop an interest 
in the creation of non-market-controlled industrial, health and commercial sectors 
etc. Because such groups wished also to extend state jurisdiction to these areas 
and to enhance the power of the state's re-distributive institutions, they sought to 
prevent non-state-oriented Jewish commercial and industrial elites from obtaining 
key positions in these fields. (Lacko: 1981:184) 

At the same time, non-state-controlled positions constituted real power and 
prestige in society. For example, the press could be used to influence cultural 
attitudes, while the growth of a modern economy was rendering commerce, 
banking and transport increasingly important. Lawyers were becoming more 
significant in economic and business life, and an expanding social security system 


Peter Tibor Nagy 

- in which Jewish clerks and medical staff held key positions - was beginning to 
dispose of an ever-greater share of national income. 

Workers of German and/or Jewish background had traditionally led the 
Hungarian workers' movement. As the workers' and trade union movements 
began to turn into real political forces, competitors of the traditional workers' elite 
began voicing antisemitic arguments. This process was not confined to the 
opposition movement. Thus, for instance, in the parliament of the Hungarian 
Soviet Republic of 1919, the Communist Party's populist elite used antisemitic 
arguments in their struggle against the Party's central elite. (Tanacsok: 1919) 

The peace treaty was followed by the mass migration into Hungary of 
middle-class Hungarian-speakers from the successor states, resulting in stiff 
competition for positions and jobs. Against this background of increased 
competition, the Christian middle classes turned to the executive power for 
assistance in their struggle against the Jews. Nevertheless, the increased level of 
competition was not enough to persuade the Hungarian middle classes - so proud 
of their Corpus Iuris, the symbol of their adherence to Europe - to transform the 
Hungarian legislative into a means of violently suppressing the Jews. 

Right-wing public opinion began to argue that liberalism, radicalism and 
social democracy - all of which it perceived as manifestations of "Jewish 
cosmopolitism" - were responsible for the collapse of the historical kingdom of 
Hungary. "National sentiment", which had been a natural associate of liberalism 
in the nineteenth century, became locked in a conflict with "liberal sentiment". In 
the end, the middle classes chose nationalism rather than liberalism, discarding 
the old principles of equality and human rights and giving the green light to 
restrictions against Jews. 

As we shall see, although it was evidently the extreme right wing rather 
than the political centre that gave the concrete impetus to the adoption of the 
Numerus Clausus, nevertheless without this "state of competition" and the 
"contradiction between nationalism and liberalism", the country's elite might 
never have been willing to tolerate antisemitism in the form of a parliamentary 
act. (Laddnyi,1979) 

Why introduce a numerus clausus in higher education ? 

The issue at stake was which sphere could be used to "administer" 
restrictions against Jews. After the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (which 
in 1919 had confiscated wealth and nationalised property), the direct confiscation 
of Jewish property was no longer a real option. Moreover, given the country's dire 
economic situation, the exclusion of highly qualified Jewish accountants, 
engineers and economists would merely have exacerbated the crisis. The only 
apparent "solution" was to assist the Christian middle classes by giving preference 
to "their sons" in the educational sphere. 

Education already had a sufficiently anti-liberal tradition. In the 1910s, 
right-wing political Catholicism had made significant strides in the sphere. The 

Peter Tibor Nagy 

Ministry of Education had a good chance of obtaining the support of the churches 
because it had something concrete to offer them: the Ministry could (and did) 
make participation in denominational services a compulsory part of school 
attendance after 1919. 

Why were restrictions on the number of Jews imposed at university level 
but not at secondary level? We may identify three important reasons for this. 

1. The Ministry wished to pacify the extreme right-wing students' 
movement, whose aim was the complete exclusion of Jews from university 
education. (In previous decades, the Jewish percentage of college and university 
students had grown rapidly from 10.4% in 1871 to 20.1% in 1880, 27.8% in 1890, 
28.4% in 1900, and 29.6% in 1910.) (Karddy:1997) 

2. Surplus production of intellectuals and intellectual unemployment 
represented a popular and acceptable argument amongst most social groups. 

3. A university numerus clausus was relatively less disadvantageous to 
upper-class Jews, because they could afford to send their children abroad, whereas 
middle-class Jewish youngsters were excluded en masse. The system had to offer 
some concessions to the Jewish population: a numerus clausus in secondary 
education would have resulted in an absurd situation for Hungarian Jews. It would 
have been absurd to force a child to go abroad at the age of ten or to prevent a 
middle-class businessman from obtaining a secondary education for his son. 

A review of the concrete steps that led to the adoption of the Numerus 
Clausus Act demonstrates the existence of a coalition of different groups with 
various types of antisemitic attitudes. This becomes particularly clear if we look at 
the main arguments for the introduction of the numerus clausus put forward 
within individual university faculties. For instance, in the Faculty of Theology - 
where aggressive neo-Catholicism had already triumphed - ideological reasons 
(both anti- Judaism and anti-secularism) were emphasised, whereas in the Faculty 
of Medicine - where Jewish students were still relatively numerous - the 
"relevant" issue was "the competition between the elites". 

Militant (right-wing) student organisations and the heads of various 
universities agreed upon a compromise similar to that already established in the 
field of macro-policy by right-wing paramilitary forces and the conservative 

It appears certain that university governors gave up their beliefs and 
principles because a failure to do so would have left them unable to reintegrate 
students and to re-establish control over university life and the selection of 
applicants. It is important to note that Professor Bernolak, the author of the 
incriminating legislation (see below), urged the pacification and supervision of the 
university student organisations. 

The Government needed to find a solution. It needed arguments to counter 
the consternation caused by the Act in other parts of Europe and to maintain its 
relations with leading figures in the Hungarian industrial and financial sectors. 
(The Jewish "faction" formed a majority among both family retailer and 
wholesaler organisations.) While the Minister of Education was clearly an 


Peter Tibor Nagy 

antisemitic politician and a supporter of government restrictions against the Jews, 
he and other members of the Government knew that antisemitism could not 
become part of an act of law. They knew that while restrictions might be 
acceptable to western public opinion if they could be explained in terms of a need 
for "temporary steps vis-a-vis the Jewish population" in order "to prevent 
antisemitic pogroms stemming from communism and the war", it would never be 
possible to demonstrate the necessity of including antisemitic provisions in the 
Corpus Iuris. 

The solution was to play some parliamentary tricks. Thus, although the 
first bill submitted was merely a socially neutral restriction enabling the Minister 
to determine the number of prospective students regardless of their ethnic or 
denominational background, during the legislative process significant changes 
were, nevertheless, made to the text of the bill. 

The main political force - which disposed of a majority in the 
Parliamentary Financial Committee under the conservative politician Kuno 
Klebelsberg and a majority in the Education Committee under a Catholic prebend 
named Jozsef Vass - considered it necessary to include political provisions in the 
Act. "In the process of attendance, only such persons shall be acceptable whose 
national and moral attitudes are reliable.'''' Thus the Act became anti-liberal in a 
political sense, because it paved the way for the exclusion of liberals and 
socialists from entrance exams. Each student needed to obtain a certificate from 
the local police with details of his or her political attitudes. 

At a government party meeting, a group supported by Bishop Prohaszka 
suggested a further amendment: "The percentage of races and nationalities 
among students shall not be higher than the percentage of the races and 
nationalities in the general population." At the government party meeting, this 
clause received majority support. (Ladanyi:1979: 152) 

At the plenary session of Parliament, a right-wing university professor, 
Nandor Bernolak, submitted the amendment. The text was an absurdity under 
Hungarian law, because the word "race'''' did not represent a legal category. In a 
logical sense, the situation was a very complicated one: although the real 
objective was evidently a reduction in the number of Jewish students, the Act 
could not declare religious affiliation to be one of the selection criteria, because 
this might have endangered the stability of the Hungarian state. Although 
Protestants formed only a minority of the total population (with the number of 
Lutherans being particular small), they were significantly over-represented among 
both government officials and the intelligentsia, as well as among the urban and 
rural middle classes and - as for Lutherans - among all social strata that sought 
university places for their children. 

The adoption of the new act - which was obviously antisemitic - provoked 
a wave of criticism around Europe. The majority of the MPs were absent at the 
plenary session of Parliament when the Speaker asked for a vote. 

Ninety percent of the members of Government, including the Prime 
Minister, as well as Andrassy and Apponyi (two well-known politicians from the 

Peter Tibor Nagy 

imperial era) and Bethlen, Klebelsberg and Vass (who were to lead Hungary's 
consolidation in the 1920s) chose not to take part in the vote. 

Their absence indicates that it was impossible for them to vote down the 
legislation against the will of the radical right-wing groups, the leaders of the anti- 
leftist and antisemitic terror of 1919-20, and the paramilitary forces. But nor did 
they wish to vote in favour of the legislation, given that they were being watched 
by authorities across Europe as well as by powerful groups in the Hungarian 
capital, whose support was vital to the consolidation of the regime. Nevertheless - 
and this is the important point - some of these politicians really did want the Act 
to be adopted, for they knew that it would provide more university places to the 
children of their middle-class supporters. (In the end, just 57 MPs voted in favour 
of the Act, with seven votes against. If opponents of the bill had left the building 
rather than participate in the vote, the Speaker would have been forced to 
abandon proceedings, due to a lack of numbers. Thus, even those MPs who voted 
against the Numerus Clausus - the Minister of Education was among them - 
actually ended up tacitly supporting its adoption.) 

The Act did not mention the words "Jew", "Jewish", "Israelite" or 
suchlike. But the executive decree issued by the Minister of Education after its 
enactment included a list of the percentages of each of the national groups as well 
as the Jewish denominational group. The Minister indicated in this decree that the 
Jewish denominational percentage was to be regarded as a "national percentage". 
The decree was a statistical and constitutional absurdity. Statistically, each 
national census from 1869 to 1920 - and the situation remained the same even 
later on - had made a distinction between religious denominations and national 
groups. The "Jewish" category had always been listed among the denominations 
rather than as a national group - contrary to census practice in Russia and 
Romania, where the Jews had always been listed among the national groups. 
Under the Hungarian constitution, church-state relations were based on the 
principle that none of the denominations were to be identified as a nationality. 
(This was an important issue not just with respect to the Jews, most of whom had 
been German-Yiddish speakers until their spontaneous assimilation into the 
Magyar-speaking majority, but also in relation to Orthodox Christians, many of 
whom belonged to the Serbian or Romanian national groups. An important aim of 
the Hungarian elite was to "assimilate" - that is, to incorporate into the Magyar- 
speaking community - the Serbs and Romanians without forcing them to change 
their religious denomination.) 

Hungary's three main Christian denominations, the Catholic, Calvinist and 
Lutheran churches, which had earlier been so adamant that only a parliamentary 
act - and not a ministerial decree - might change the status of a church, 
nevertheless tolerated this dangerous precedent. 


Peter Tibor Nagy 

Implementation and its relative failure 

The implementation of the Act was never completely or fully achieved. If 
the Act had been implemented fully, the national average would have been 6%. 
The fact was, however, that in 1921 Jewish students accounted for 12.6% of total 
students, and in 1926 the figure was 9.4%.(MSE: 1923, 1927). It was "high", but 
much less than before the war when it had reached one half of the students in 
some faculties and close to a quarter of the whole student body. At Hungary's 
provincial universities, above all at Pecs - a new university - the percentage of 
Jewish students remained relatively high. 

Nor was the decree on "nationalist feeling" implemented. We have only 
sporadic data about left-wing movements at the universities, aside from a 
statistical survey carried out in 1924. This survey, however, indicates that almost 
two-thirds (6129) of 9754 students attending universities in Budapest - where the 
ratio of Jewish students was the lowest - were not members of right-wing student 
organisations. Only 5% of students regularly read right-wing daily newspapers, 
while 25% regularly read liberal newspapers - or liberal and right wing ones.. 
(About 25% read no newspapers.) (SK 54/3, p. 68) 

Some students had begun to protest against physical attacks by 
paramilitary groups against Jews, while other students, who wished simply to 
study, asked for government assistance in their struggle to avoid being forced into 
joining certain student organisations (NN 1922-27 17/404 ,26/361). The Minister 
of Education threatened action against the organisers of antisemitic disturbances 
in Pecs; he rebuffed the students' committee of Sopron College and then arranged 
for the closure of the College, banning forty-two students from the student 
refectory as a punishment for their antisemitic actions, and ignoring a subsequent 
national strike by students. (NN 1922-27 24/319,26/265) 

In the autumn of 1926, the Rector Magnificus (President) of Budapest 
University reported that the disturbances had been organised by outside groups 
rather than by students, and that these external elements had received payments 
from the political right wing. The screening procedure - an institution that in 1920 
had been used against the Jews - was now employed against the non-student 

Some political forces attempted to extend the sphere of authority of the 
numerus clausus. A right-wing group of MPs tried to prohibit Jews from teaching 
Hungarian literature and history, while another group sought the exclusion of all 
Jews from the teaching profession. In 1923 Gyula Gombos, the right-wing 
opposition leader (who later served as prime minister - 1932-1936 - and called 
himself the great mediator between Hitler and Mussolini), proposed that the 
maximum number of Jewish students fixed by the numerus clausus should also 
include converted Jews - as indeed it was practiced implicitely in several 
faculties. Such a view represented a direct acknowledgement of racist 
antisemitism. The majority rejected his proposal. (NI 1920-22 1/381, NN 1922-27 
22/189, 18/162) 

Peter Tibor Nagy 

In 1923 Gombos also proposed controls on the accreditation of foreign 
graduations- with the aim of limiting the number of Jewish students leaving or 
returning to the country. Following political pressure from the right wing, the 
Secondary School Act of 1924 stipulated that the accreditation of foreign 
certificates should be subject to the approval of a special committee. According to 
contemporary estimates, about 20 billion Crowns were flowing out of Hungary 
each year as the result of a thousand Jewish students having been forced to study 
abroad by the Numerus Clausus. (NN 1922-27 18/162, 27/38, 22/159) 

The Ministry of Education also issued a decree on secondary school 
entrance examinations - but this could never be implemented. 

The Bethlen government rejected proposals concerning an extension of the 
Numerus Clausus to secondary and vocational schools. It also ignored demands 
for the imposition of fines on denominational schools that failed to adhere to the 
Numerus Clausus. 

In 1923 the opposition called for the abrogation of the Numerus Clausus. 
The proposal received the support of thirty-seven MPs (socialists and liberals) but 
eighty- four MPs rejected it, while a further 123 MPs were absent. The vote 
demonstrated that whereas in 1920 the majority of MPs of centrist views had been 
opposed to the scheme, by 1923 they were prepared to rescue the Act, which was 
widely perceived to serve the interests of the middle classes. Nevertheless, one 
may observe an interesting shift in the arguments put forward in favour of a 
liberalisation. In 1920 opponents of the Numerus Clausus had referred to 
international public opinion and the long-term aim of a peace treaty revision. But 
now the liberal and centrist politicians referred to the necessity of facilitating the 
receipt of international credits. Indeed, the need for international loans had 
become a far more important consideration than the risk of outrage at the 
international political organisations: the League of Nations had already discussed 
the Numerus Clausus on three occasions without formulating any consequences. 
(NN 1922-2 7 8/249, Spira:1972 ) 

The original socio-historical rationale for the introduction of the Numerus 
Clausus - that is, the competition between elites in an impoverished country - 
became even more grave following the mass migration of members of former 
elites into Hungary from neighbouring countries. 320,000 persons immigrated to 
the country from the large territories ceded by Hungary to Czechoslovakia, 
Yugoslavia, Romania (and, to a lesser degree, Austria and Poland) as well as the 
training of masses of new university graduates in the 1920s. Comparing the 1920 
and 1930 levels, the number of physicians rose to 187% (the percent of Jewish 
ones declining from 46 % to 34%, the number of secondary school teachers grew 
to 133%, (the percent of Jewish ones remaining stabilized at 6,5%) the number of 
engineers grew to 127% (the percent of Jewish ones decreasing from 38,2% to 
30,4%) etc, (94.k. 138-140.) 

Klebelsberg, Minister of Education from 1922 until 1931, however 
ambiguous he showed himself in this matter, declared that his conservative beliefs 
would require the total abrogation of the Numerus Clausus. In his view, while the 


Peter Tibor Nagy 

only real objective - the ending of the competition between the elites - had to be 
accomplished, this should be achieved without antisemitic provisions. Klebelsberg 
had close relations with Jewish and other capitalist interests, many of which 
financed the cultural activities of the Hungarian government as well as supported 
scientific research. The image of cultural superiority of Hungary over its 
neighbors beyond the borders was a central element in the cultural and foreign 
policy of the Bethlen government in the 1920s. 

Klebelsberg sent a letter to his Prussian colleague Becker explaining the 
obstacles to the full abolition of the Numerus Clausus put up by right-wing 
elements within the government party. But he knew that the limits on numbers 
could be raised, thereby turning the Numerus Clausus into an illusion. (OSZK 
Archives, Letter Section, Klebelsberg to Becker 16 Oct 1928) 

The Government did not, however, propose the full abolition of the 
Numerus Clausus. The members of government had no compelling wish to do so, 
and they also had to consider the wishes of right-wing forces both inside and 
outside the party. In private correspondence to the Prime Minister, Klebelsberg 
wrote: "We do have to revise the Act - not in order to inflict [the scourge of] 
thousands of Jewish students on the nation, but, through rational moderation, to 
save the essence of the institution [i.e. the Numerus Clausus]." (Romsics 

In 1928 the government submitted an amendment bill with a view to 
abrogating the most scandalous provisions of the Act. According to voting figures 
on the amendment, 173 MPs were present in Parliament - a far greater number 
than in 1920. 139 MPs voted in favour of the amendment and 34 against. 
Opponents of the amendment included thirteen social democrats and five liberals, 
as well as several right-wing MPs who wished to retain the original antisemitic 

The amendment won the support of members of the government party and 
a majority of christian socialists. The "mercantile wing" of the government party 
also supported the amendment. (KN 1927-32 9/237/) 

More then half of liberal MPs were absent at the time of the vote. Their 
principles did not permit them to support the amendment, and yet they too were in 
favour of changing the provisions of the Act. The mercantile wing of the 
government party, on the other hand, which had been unwilling to vote for the 
original Numerus Clausus Act, was present at the vote, and gave its support to the 
amendment. This group of MPs realised that to damage the unity of the 
government party would merely have benefited the racists, thereby enabling right 
and left-wing opponents of the amendment to scupper the Government's 
compromise and prevent any liberalisation of the system. 

In the Upper House, Albert Berzeviczy, who had served as Minister of 
Education from 1903-1905, declared that his belief was in the complete freedom 
of learning, but that any failure to support the amendment bill would merely leave 
the old Act in place. (FN 1927-32 2/114) 

Peter Tibor Nagy 

Unfortunately, the passing of the amendment to the Numerus Clausus Act 
represented the "highpoint" of liberalism in Hungary's consolidation period 
during the interwar years. The Christian middle classes continued to receive 
preferential treatment, but this was now based on a more complex system rather 
than explicit antisemitism. Thus student percentages were set for different 
professions and different regions. (Jews were concentrated in urban areas and in 
the commercial sphere - so the discrimination never disappeared.) 

In the 1930s the government drafted an extra annual report on the number 
of Jewish students attending universities and the subjects that they were studying. 
College and university administrators gradually reduced the ratio of Jewish 
students from 11.3% in 1931 to 8.9% in 1936. (In absolute terms the decrease 
represented more then 500 Jewish students.) {Het: 1:191) 

The aim of the Numerus Clausus was not to promote the interests of 95% 
of the population at the expense of 5% percent of the population. Instead its 
purpose was to guarantee the interests of 210,000 Christian middle-class families 
(or 277,000 highly qualified non- Jewish individuals) at the expense of 60,000 
Jewish families (or some 78,000 equally highly qualified Jewish individuals). 
Thus, the effect of the Numerus Clausus was to ensure that 77% of the elite 
should receive 95% of university places. 

Nevertheless, it soon became evident that the Numerus Clausus was 
incapable of guaranteeing the Christian middle-class elite the stability that it 
desired. The great depression resulted in the mass unemployment of public 
officials, who then attempted to obtain the free-market positions held by Jews. 

What were the underlying factors that led to the introduction and retention 
of the Numerus Clausus! In the 1920s antisemitism seems to have been rooted in 
a kind of coalition of different political and ideological groups: 1/ Modernising 
bureaucrats, who wished to control society, perceived the Jewish middle class as 
an alternative force that might threaten their domination. 2/ People that saw 
antisemitism as an ideal channel for a reaffirmation of both the Catholic and 
Protestant character of the country. (Compare the Catholic criticism of 
Prohaszka's theological works in the 1910s with the silence that followed his 
accusations against the Jews after 1919. By then some people did not hesitate to 
transform anti-Judaism into antisemitism). 3/ Politicians who realized that the 
non-market-oriented middle classes felt threatened by the market oriented Jewish 
competitors for their positions. 

Faced with the loss of their former stability, the old ruling elite was 
increasingly determined to exclude any competition. While the proximity of the 
Third Reich may have facilitated the adoption of the "anti-Jewish laws" after 
1938, these laws were deeply rooted in the underlying structure and ideology of 
the Hungarian middle classes, the earliest legal expression of which was the Law 
1 920/25. 2 

2 1 express my special thanks to Dr. Mihaly Szilagyi-Gal for his stylistical work on my paper 


Peter Tibor Nagy 


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Peter Tibor Nagy 

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to the census] in Magyar Statisztikai Szemle, 1944 4-5 21-30pp 

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problema, [Antisemitism as a problem of social science] in: A. Kovacs (ed.): A 
modern antiszemitizmus, Uj Mandatum, Budapest, 1999 

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political biography], Budapest, Osiris ,1991 

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volume 54] 


Peter Tibor Nagy 

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Andor Ladanyi 

Andor Ladanyi 

On the 1928 amendment to the Hungarian numerus 
clausus act 

Though 19 March 1944 undoubtedly represents a breaking point in the 
Hungarian history of the Jewish question — with the implementation of the 
Endlosung, the form of persecution of Jews practiced in Fascist Germany — its 
precedents nevertheless reached back across earlier decades. Act XXV of 1920, 
commonly known as the numerus clausus Act, 1 is one of these precedents. 

Abbrevitions used in the notes 

BME L = Budapesti Miiszaki Egyetem Leveltara (Archives of the Budapest University of 

BML = Baranya Megyei Leveltar (Archives of Baranya County) 
D.F.U. = Debreceni Fuggetlen Ujsdg 
Dm = Delmagyarorszdg 
E.K = Esti Kurir 

ELTE L — Eotvos Lorand Tudomanyegyetem Leveltara (Archives of the Eotvos Lorand 

HBML = Hajdu-Bihar Megyei Leveltar (Archives of Hajdu-Bihar County) 
KLTE It = Kossuth Lajos Tudomanyegyetem Irattara (Archives of the Kossuth Lajos University) 
MOL = Magyar Orszagos Leveltar (National Archives of Hungary) 
N.U. = Nemzeti Ujsdg 
P.N. = Pesti Naplo 

SOTE L = Semmelweis Orvostudomanyi Egyetem Leveltara (Archives of the Semmelweis 
University of Medicine) 
Sz.U.N. = Szegedi Uj Nemzedek 

1 Notable works in the literature dealing with the numerus clausus Act include Gyula Gabor, A 
numerus clausus es a zsido egyetem [The numerus clausus Act and the Jewish university], 
(Budapest: Frater es Tarsa, 1924); Istvan Haller, Hare a numerus clausus koriil [The struggle 
around the numerus clausus], (Budapest: Selbstverl, 1926); Andor Ladanyi, Az egyetemi ifjusdg az 
ellenforradalom elsd eveiben 1919-1921 [University youth in the first years of the 
counterrevolution 1919-1921], in the series Ertekezesek a torteneti tudomdnyok korebol [Essays in 
the field of historical sciences], New series no. 88 (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1979), 117-78; 
Victor Karady and Istvan Kemeny, "Antisemitisme universitaire et concurrence de classe: la loi du 
numerus clausus en Hongrie entre les deux guerres", Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 
No. 34 (Paris: 1980), 67-99; Nathaniel Katzburg, Hungary and the Jews. Policy and Legislation 
1920-1943 (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1981), 60-79; N. Szegvari Katalin, Numerus 
clausus rendelkezesek az ellenforradalmi Magyarorszdgon. A zsido es ndhallgatok felvetelerol 
[Numerus clausus regulations in counterrevolutionary Hungary. On the admission of Jewish and 
women students], (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1988); Robert Barta, "A numerus clausus es 
baloldali Magyar zsido politikai kozvelemeny. Sic itur ad astra" [The numerus clausus and left- 
wing Hungarian Jewish political public opinion. Sic itur ad astra], Fiatal Torteneszek Folyoirata 
Issue 5-6 (Budapest, 1990):l-2; Laszlo Gonda, A zsidosdg Magyarorszdgon 1526-1945 
[Hungarian Jewry 1526-1945], (Budapest: Osiris, 1992), 200-3; Lorant Tilkovszky's unpublished 
lecture given at the scientific conference of 5-7 April 1994, with the heading, "A zsidotorvenyek, 
mint a holocaust elozmenyei" [The laws regulating Jews, as precedents of the Holocaust]. 


Andor Laddnyi 

A product of the period of White terror, this Act came about mainly under 
pressure from far-right university student organizations. Anti-Semitism was a 
determining trait of the political ideology of these organizations, which had the 
support of the extreme right political forces and departmental faculties taking 
prominent roles, and their main demand was a radical reduction in the numbers of 
Jewish students. A primary cause of their anti-Semitism can be pinned down to 
the situation of middle-class youth and their insecurity in regards to subsistence 
(and the way was distorted). 

In 1919, civil servants resettled en masse from the occupied territories in 
to a Hungary reduced to one-third of its former size. A relative overproduction of 
intelligentsia that had been, to a certain degree, already the case prior to the war, 
became an acute problem in the changed circumstances, serious economic 
situation following the War, even taking into account a proportionately large 
increase in university enrollment numbers. (A single example, by way of 
illustration: according to the census of 1920, the number of medical doctors 
practicing their professions was a little short of 5,000, while the number of 
students studying at the faculties of medicine in academic year 1920-21 was 
4,500.) The national average for the proportion of Jewish students in higher 
education in the period from the turn of the century to the end of World War One 
was 23-24%, with somewhat larger numbers in the faculties of medicine and at 
the University of Technology, and lower in the faculties of arts, as well as 
institutions of higher learning for agriculture. (The relatively large proportion of 
Jewish students was naturally not the result of some sort of "racial takeover", but 
stood in relation to the way Hungarian society, and Jewry within it was structured, 
as well as the denominational distribution, and urbanization of the social classes 
and strata that provided the dominant majority of young people at universities.) 
Young middle-class Christians considered eliminating, or drastically limiting the 
number of Jewish students at universities a solution to their problems with finding 
a living. 

The other main reason behind the anti-Semitism of university youth 
organizations was the role taken by a significant segment of Jewish intellectuals 
and students in the revolutions of 1918-1919, due to which, vocal demands that 
collective punishment be meted out on Jewry as perpetrators of, and party to the 
revolutions were common. The anti-Semitism of far right forces also carried 
definitively racist traits. 

Under the terms of § no. 1 of the numerus clausus Act, only individuals 
who are absolutely reliable where their national allegiance and moral values are 
concerned may enroll in the universities of the sciences, the faculties of 
economics, the University of Technology, and academies of law, and only in 
numbers that can be given thorough instruction. § no. 2 adds that so long as they 
are absolutely reliable where their national allegiance and moral values are 
concerned, the future enrollment of students enrolled prior to the Act coming into 
effect is not effected. According to § no. 3 of the draft law, permission for 
enrollment must be requested by way of a petition, for arbitration by the faculty 

Andor Laddnyi 

concerned. An amendment proposed by Nandor Bernolak — and signed by 75 
members of parliament and adopted by parliament — was appended to this 
paragraph: "In granting permission to enroll, apart from the demands of national 
allegiance and moral reliability, attention should be given on the one hand, to the 
intellectual abilities of the applicant, and on the other, to making sure that as far as 
possible, the proportion of students belonging to different racial (nepfaj) and 
national groups found within the borders of the country amounts to the proportion 
of the same racial (nepfaj) or national group in the total population, but comes to 
within at least nine -tenths of the figure." This Act was intended — though not 
stated explicitly — mainly to reduce the number of Jewish students at universities, 
and in this regard antedated the first laws for racial preservation in fascist 
Germany by 12 years. But the Act — beyond the anti-Semitic tendency it 
showed — was also "pioneering" in the sense that through it, Hungary was the first 
to establish quotas for the number of students that could be accepted to each 

From the legal perspective Act XXV of 1920 — and especially its § 3 — 
was rather problematic. It inhibited the substantiation of the principle of free 
choice of school, and § 3 violated the principle of equality before the law. The 
notion of "race" (nepfaj) did not exist in Hungarian public law. Though the notion 
of nationality was legally accepted, Act XLIV of 1868 made it clear that "every 
citizen of the country, regardless of nationality, is a member of the unified 
Hungarian nation with equal rights", and the criteria taken as the indicator for 
national belonging was the mother tongue. Jewry was unequivocally defined as a 
religious denomination in the period of the Dual Monarchy. The raised issue of 
public law was "resolved" by the Ministry of Religion and Education by showing 
the data for the distribution of the population by language in the annex to the 
regulations of implementation for the law, appending the following note: 
"Counting the Israelites as a separate nationality." 3 

In its original form, this law remained in force until 1928, when Act XIV 
of 1928 brought amendments to it. Relatively few works have addressed this 

2 "1920. evi XXV. Torvenycikk a tudomanyegyetemekre, a miiegyetemre, a budapesti egyetemi 
kozgazdasagtudomanyi karra es a jogakademiakra valo beiratkozas szabalyozasarol" In: 1000 ev 
t6rvenyei,http://www. 1 

3 Magyar Torvenytdr. 1920. evi torvenycikkek [Hungarian body of Law. Acts of 1920], (Budapest: 
1921), 145—146; Molnar Kdlman egyetemi tandr osszegyiijtdtt kisebb tanulmdnyai es cikkei 
[Collected short studies and articles by University Professor Kalman Molnar], (Pecs: 1932), 275- 
77; Az egyetemi szelekcio reformja Ereky Istvdn bizottsdgi eloado javaslata. Orszdgos 
Felsooktatasi Tandcs 1 [Reform of the selection process for universities, proposal of the Istvan 
Eleky Committee. National Council for Higher Education], (Budapest: 1939), 3—4; Ladanyi, Az 
egyetemi ijjusdg. 

4 Jozsef Huszti, Grof Klebelsberg Kuno eletmikve [The life-work of Count Kuno Klebelsberg], 
(Budapest: 1942), 195—7; Zsuzsa L. Nagy, Bethlen liberdlis ellenzeke. A liberdlis politikai pdrtok 
1919-1931 [The liberal opposition to Bethlen. The liberal political parties 1919-1931], (Budapest: 
1980. 189-93.; Katzburg, Hungary and the Jews, 74-79; Ignac Romsics, Ellenforradalom es 
konszoliddcio. A Horthy-rendszer elso tiz eve [Counterrevolution and consolidation. The first ten 
years of the Horthy system], (Budapest: 1982), 243^4; Szegvari, Numerus clausus rendelkezesek, 


Andor Laddnyi 

amendment — mostly in passing — so the present study seeks to review in greater 
detail the genesis and implementation of this less well-known object on the basis 
of more extensive archival source-material. 

Weak efforts at revision of the numerus clausus 

The question of the numerus clausus came up again in the first years of the 
Bethlen consolidation. Social democratic, and liberal members of parliament 
especially, were repeatedly highly critical of the Act in the National Assembly, 
and submitted a draft proposal for a decree to repeal the Act (namely Rezso 
Rupert on 4 February 1922, Gyozo Drozdy on 5 July 1922, Imre Gyorki on 12 
January 1923, Sandor Propper 19 June 1923, Imre Szabo on 20 December 1923, 
Pal Sandor on 4 January 1924, Erno Nagy on 8 January 1924 etc.). Meanwhile, 
certain extreme right members of parliament fighting for racial preservation 
(Gyula Gombos, Endre Zsilinszky, Menyhert Kis, Janos Zsirkay) considered that 
the Act needed to be made more "stringent", and the, in their opinion, too liberal 
practices of the University of Szeged needed to be curtailed, not to mention those 
of the University of Pecs — which established the 6% Jewish student intake in 
proportion to the actual number of students admitted (rather than the total number 
allocated to the institution, which was often left unfilled), and the recognized the 
student rights earned by students in their senior years as guaranteed by the law. 
By 1925, even some parliamentary representatives in the liberal wing of the Unity 
Party (Egysegespart) took a position aligned with the elimination of the numerus 
clausus (during the National Assembly debate on the 1924/1925 budget, Count 
Miksa Hoyos, Gyorgy Lukacs, and Janos Tankovics preferred the annulment of 
the Act, and at the same time, 24 Unity Party representatives declared their 
opposition to the numerus clausus in a volume titled A magyar zsidosdg 
almanachja. Numerus clausus [The almanac of Hungarian Jewry. The numerus 
clausus], published in 1925. 5 

At first the government tried to present the quota system, regulating the 
number of students that could be accepted, as socio-political measures — and 
simply stifled the issue created by § 3, which gave the criteria for the proportion 
of particular nationality and racial groups, in silence. 

Reflecting on the draft resolution submitted by Gyorki for the 26 January 
1923 session of the National Assembly, Klebelsberg declared that in essence, it is 

167-76; Ignac Romsics, Bethlen Istvdn. Politikai eletrajz [Istvan Bethlen. A political biography], 
(Budapest: 1991), 201-202; Gonda, A zsidosdg Magyarorszdgon 1526-1945, 202-3. 

Az 1920. evi februdr ho 16-dra osszehivott Nemzetgyiiles Iromdnyai Vol. XIII [Documents of the 
National Assembly convened for 16 February 1920], 166; Az 1922. evi Junius ho 16-dra hirdetett 
Nemzetgyiiles Nyomtatvdnyai [Printed documents of the National Assembly convened for 16 
February 1920], Memorandum Vol. I, 269-70., Vol. VIII, 249, Vol. XIV, 223; Vol. XVIII, 263, 
392; Vol. XIX, 15, 30, 279; Vol. XXVIII, 148-9, 221, 252; Vol. XXIX, 84; A magyar zsidosag 
almanachja. Numerus clausus [The Almanac of Hungarian Jewry. Numerus clausus], (Budapest: 

Andor Laddnyi 

the socio-political implications of the numerus clausus which should be taken into 
view. "If we train a far broader intelligentsia than is needed" he said, "we may 
sow the seeds of great social strife." In regards to the draft resolution proposed by 
Propper he emphasized, in his speech at the National Assembly session of 3 1 July 
1923, that he stands by free choice of school, and "if we were still tending to our 
lives in the old Greater Hungary, I would not argue for the numerus clausus; but 
as we live in a "leftover" Hungary, having lost two-thirds of the country with the 
educated circles collapsing back into the remaining one-third, there is far too large 
a concentration of intelligentsia compared to what the country is able to support 
[...]. In these circumstances the numerus clausus is still required." He retraced the 
same notions in his contribution to the debate on indemnity on 29 January 1924, 
alluding to the threat posed by the intellectual proletariat (rejecting, at the same 
time, proposals for the toughening of the law), and then on 3 April 1924, he stated 
in his speech to the National Assembly discussing the law on secondary education 
that "when the country will once again have growth, if its economic life prospers, 
which is not a possibility within the present Hungary, defined by the Treaty of 
Trianon [...] this law can be erased." In view of public response to the anti- 
numerus clausus position taken by the three mentioned governing party members 
of parliament he made clear in a press release that he considers the Act to be a 
response to a social problem, which is a consequence of the Peace Treaty of 
Trianon, meanwhile declaring in a pacifying tone aimed at the majority of the 
Unity Party and supporters of the government in the Christian Party 
(Keresztenypart) (as well as the racists): "a repeal or reform of the numerus 
clausus is not even being considered for the agenda, and so no draft law, taking up 
this issue, is under preparation." 6 

Somewhat greater emphasis was given to the question of the numerus 
clausus at the end of November 1925 plenary debates of the annual budget for 
1925/26 in the National Assembly. This time Klebelsberg stressed not the issue of 
fighting the overproduction of the intelligentsia with regard to the Act, but the 
need to give preference to an economically weakened Hungarian middle class, 
that is, the Christian intelligentsia (adopting for the purpose, the turns of phrase 
"Hungarian child" and "Jewish child" from racist terminology), denying however, 
the discriminative nature of the numerus clausus Act in regards to Jews. Social 
Democrat and Liberal members of parliament (Anna Kethly, Bela Fabian, Jozsef 
Pakots, and Endre Saly) took an even more explicitly critical tone into the 
denunciations of the prolongation of the numerus clausus Act, and pointed to the 
lack of honesty in Klebelsberg 's position. Anticipation of the meetings of the 

N.U. 1-2 February 1925; Az 1922 evi Junius ho 16-dra hirdetett Nemzetgyiiles Nyomtatvdnyai 
[Printed documents of the National Assembly convened for 16 June 1922], Memorandum Vol. 
DC, 188-9; Vol. XV, 250; Vol. XXII, 219; Grof Klebelsberg Kuno beszedei, cikkei, 
torvenyjavaslatai [Count Kuno Klebelsberg: Speeches, articles, draft laws], (Budapest, 1927), 
403-4.; Huszti, Grof Klebelsberg Kuno eletmiive, 195-7. 


Andor Laddnyi 


League of Nations, shortly to be held, gave the debate an added urgency. 
The theatrics at Geneva 

The case of the Hungarian numerus clausus Act was tabled for the second 
time by the League of Nations in December 1925. It had been taken up for the 
first time on the basis of the petition of the Joint Foreign Committee of the Jewish 
Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association dated 3 November 1921, as 
well as the Alliance Israelite Universelle petition of 11 November 1921 — 
according to which the numerus clausus Act represented a transgression of the 
decrees of the Peace Treaty of Trianon aimed at the protection of minorities and at 
insuring the equal rights of racial, national, and religious minorities. In January 
1922, the Hungarian government declared that the aim of this law was to decrease 
the educated proletariat and ensure minority rights, and accordingly, does not 
contradict the relevant regulations of the Peace Treaty, but to the contrary, in it the 
government had codified the rights of the minorities with regard to free choice of 
school, The League of Nations Council proposed in its report on the 30 September 
1922 session, drafted by the committee of delegates sent out to review the matter, 
that the Hungarian government provide a detailed report on the implementation of 
the law. Foreign Minister Miklos Banffy promised to do so, but already told the 
Assembly in session that though Jewish citizens make up approximately 6 % of 
the total population, the proportion of students of "Jewish faith and race" came to 
33.3 % at the University of Szeged and 45.2 % at the University of Pecs (while 
not mentioning that the explanation for the high rate was the great number of 
senior students displaced from the Budapest University of Sciences). "Under these 
circumstances it cannot be said" he concluded, "that the legitimate rights of the 
Jewish population have been violated." The Council of the League of Nations 
took note of both the committee report and Banffy' s statement. 

On 1 January 1925, the Chairman of the Joint Foreign Committee, Lucien 
Wolf submitted a fresh petition to the League of Nations, which asked for the 
position of the Hungarian government on the question. Foreign Minister Walko 
elaborated on the contents of the petition in his extensive review of 19 May 1925, 
and then the Committee formed in order to probe the issue requested that the 
Hungarian government reply to three concrete questions framed on 6 July 1925: 
(1) Does the Hungarian government intend amendments to the implementation of 
the numerus clausus Act in view of the decision of the Hungarian Supreme Court 
(Kuria) on 23 September 1924, declaring that Jewry is not a nationality 
(nemzetiseg), but a religious denomination, and if so, to what effect? (2) Can the 
number of applicants and the number of those rejected be established and 
categorized by race and nationality? (3) By what criteria is the Jewish or non- 

Az 1922. evi Junius ho 16-dra hirdetett Nemzetgyiiles Nyomtatvdnyai [Printed documents of the 
National Assembly convened for 16 June 1922], Memorandum Vol. XXXV, 377; Vol. XXXV, 
433^1; Vol. XXXVI, 18-21, 26-7, 38. 

Andor Laddnyi 

Jewish background of an applicant determined in the course of implementing the 
law. In its reply of 18 August 1925, the Hungarian government claimed that the 
need for an amendment to Act XXV of 1920, or its mode of implementation, is 
not apparent. In regards to the second question, the government was not able to 
quote actual data (noting however, that there was a strong possibility of the 
proportion of well-to-do Jewish applicants among those rejected being high). 
Where question three was concerned, the Foreign Minister — in contrast to the way 
the issue was obfuscated in his earlier review — replied that documents proving the 
origins of the applicants formed the basis of determination. Upon consideration of 
the above, at its meeting of 22 September, the Committee proposed that the 
question be tabled for the next session of the League of Nations. 

The government felt that in face of all the facts, its defense of the numerus 
clausus Act at the next session of the Council of the League of Nations, convened 
for December, was going to be an uphill task. Towards a successful conclusion of 
this affair, firstly a decision was taken to invest Klebelsberg with the task of 
representing the Hungarian government in Geneva, and secondly the government 
also found it necessary that the official representatives of Hungarian Jewry 
distance themselves from the action of the foreign Jewish organizations. 

In the autumn of 1925, the representatives of Hungarian Jewry were of the 
same opinion. In an article entitled "Bethlen es az Alliance" [Bethlen and the 
Alliance], Vazsonyi — who had repeatedly taken a position against citing the 
Treaty of Trianon or relying on foreign support in relation to the numerus 
clausus — proclaimed: "You will never find a Hungarian Jew who asks for foreign 
assistance on the issue of the numerus clausus. We will never stoop so low as to 
rest our case upon the Treaty of Trianon." In its article of 7 November, 
Egyenloseg also emphasized — in Vazsonyi 's spirit — that the struggle against the 
numerus clausus "is an internal issue of Hungarian Jewry, a struggle it wishes to 
carry through at home, by constitutional means, and within the legal framework 
provided." Apart from a skeptical view of the role played by the League of 
Nations, the reasons behind Vazsonyi's position were mainly of a legal nature: in 
line with an approach to public law grounded in the Dual Monarchy he dismissed 
the definition of Jewry as a "minority", along with the provisions for its rights 
formed on the basis of the Treaty of Trianon; he set out — and hoped — to have the 
numerus clausus repealed through a return to equal citizen rights. 

Bethlen prepared and sent the draft resolution to be submitted to the 
plenary meeting to the Executive Committee of the Hungarian Jewish Congress 
on 17 November 1925. After passionately debating it, the Executive Committee 

MOL K107-III/a; Societe des Nations - Journal Officiel (1926) 146—8; Haller, Hare a numerus 
clausus koriil, 194-203. 

9 Egyenloseg (7 November 1925), 1, 9; Vazsonyi Vilmos beszedei es irdsai Vol. 2 [Speeches and 
writings by Vilmos Vazsonyi], (Budapest: 1927), 436^13; Maria M. Kovacs, "A kisebbsegek 
jogvedelmenek politikai csapdaja. Vazsonyi Vilmos es a numerus clausus" [The political trap of 
protecting minority rights. Vilmos Vazsonyi and the numerus clausus], Beszelo (7 April 1994), 


Andor Laddnyi 

adopted not the draft, but a different formulation by Vilmos Vazsonyi, which 
actually matched the Bethlen formula in all essentials: Hungarian Jewry did not 
seek any form of foreign assistance in the matter of the numerus clausus, and 
declines any such assistance. The official representation for the Orthodox Jewish 
community sent a letter with similar contents to the Permanent Secretariat of the 
League of Nations. 

In his wide ranging and rather cleverly argued declaration Klebelsberg 
presented to the League of Nations Council at its 10 December 1925 session, 
based on both verified and "twisted" facts, and "in which," as Huszti put it, "he 
spoke of everything, but kept wisely silent on the point of the issue," his point of 
departure was that the Hungarian Jewish organizations solemnly protested against 
the intervention of the foreign Jewish organizations completely alien to them. 
Therefore, there was in fact no such minority issue, which the League of Nations 
was required to deal with; yet in spite of this, in view of the international 
propaganda the numerus clausus had been the subject of, an elucidation of the 
problem did seem to be necessary. 

In leading up the issue he pointed out that the Hungarian government did 
not consider the numerus clausus a permanent measure, but one of a transitional 
nature. It followed from the impact of the Treaty of Trianon, and could be 
amended at any point as soon as social and economic life had regained its earlier 
stability. He cited data showing the explosion of the Hungarian middle class, 
stressing the need for a halt to further increase in the overproduction of the 

However, he did not include an evaluation of the quota system imposed 
upon the number of students that could be accepted to institutions of higher 
education. In his earlier mentioned work on the subject, Istvan Ereky — citing data 
from Dezso Laky — established that the Hungarian system of selection "had 
actually only been successful in a few faculties", "apart from the numerus clausus 
affecting the Jews, which made its effect felt everywhere". The number of 
students that could be accepted to the faculties had been set quite high in the first 
place, and on numerous occasions the limit had even been raised — as a result of 
social pressure — while the number of applicants remained far below the set limits 
in certain provincial faculties, and at some institutions — for example, at the 
Budapest Faculty of Medicine in particular — the number of those accepted 
remained well below the established limits (while a large number of Jewish 
applicants were rejected in the process). 

In the following, Klebelsberg pointed out that the scope of the numerus 
clausus Act did not extend to the colleges specializing in economics and other 
some other fields of study. And since the Jews were especially likely to choose 
vocations of an economic nature, this circumstance in itself is enough to prove, as 
he put it, that the numerus clausus does not target Jews. (In this regard however, 

Egyenloseg (1 June 1926), 11-2; Szabolcsi Lajos, Ket emberolto. Az Egyenloseg evtizedei 
(1881-1931) [Two generations. The decade of equality (1881-1931)], (Budapest: 1993), 366-7. 

Andor Laddnyi 

Klebelsberg kept to himself the fact that in a majority of colleges — primarily on 
account of the string-arm tactics of the extreme right youth organizations at 
universities — what had in fact been achieved was not the numerus clausus, but the 
numerus nullus. Thus, for example, not a single Jewish student studied at the 
College of Mining and Forest Engineering of Sopron from the year 1920 onwards, 
nor did the Academy of Economics in Keszthely and Magyarovar, or the 
Academy of Economics in Debrecen have even one Jewish student, with the 
proportion of Jewish students at the College of Veterinary Medicine remaining far 
below the national average.) 

Klebelsberg alluded to the fact that the regulation on the proportional 
number of each race and nationality was not a part of the original draft law, and 
was included in the text in the course of parliamentary debate. Nonetheless, it did 
not in his opinion deprive Jews of their rights, or limit, but rather reaffirmed their 
rights, because without it a situation may have arisen in which Jewish students, 
under conditions of academic autonomy, and other given circumstances would not 
have been accepted at all, or in lower numbers to the institutions. (In this context 
he raised the example of the Budapest University of Sciences, which had a 
Catholic background, where in the absence of this law, the faculty may have 
questioned whether any Jewish students could be accepted.) This was, in fact, a 
real possibility, at least for a period of time, if the political outlooks of the 
teaching staff at some of the faculties and the role of the associations of 
camaraderie were taken into account, but could not be taken seriously where the 
majority of institutions and faculties were concerned. However, were Jews to be 
accepted to universities in greater numbers than their proportionate numbers in 
society — Klebelsberg continued — this would infringe on the rights of the 
majority. On the basis of the above, Klebelsberg denied that the Act contradicted 
§-s 56, 57 and 58 of the Treaty of Trianon, since it provided an equal dispensation 
of rights for the Jewish minority. With regard to the manner in which belonging to 
the Jewish community was determined, he remarked that this does not involve 
anthropological definitions, being based solely on birth certificates. Finally, he 
drew attention to the fact that the mood in Hungary was still so heightened that 
repealing the Act would lead to a break between Christian and Jewish societies. 
The council deferred its decision on the matter to its next meeting. 

At its following session on 12 December 1925, the Council brought a 
resolution on the basis of a proposal by de Mello-Franco, to the effect that since 
according to the representative of the Hungarian government the numerus clausus 
is only an extraordinary and temporary dispensation, and shows readiness to 
amend the Act as soon as changes in the social situation allow, the declarations of 
the Hungarian government are accepted, and amendments to the law in the near 
future are expected. Klebelsberg accepted the draft resolution and gave emphatic 


Andor Laddnyi 

expression to his government's commitment to act fully in line with its 
declarations. 11 

According to Klebelsberg's letter of January 1926 to Becker, the Prussian 
Minister for Culture, during his trip to Geneva "hatte ich eine ganze Odyssee 
durchzumachen"; in front of the League of Nations "I had to defend the numerus 
clausus Act, a doubly unpleasant task for me, as at the time of its inception... I 
had not voted for the Act, and indeed, its wording cannot be said to be 
fortunate." 12 

Following Geneva — prior to the amendment 

Klebelsberg's performance in Geneva received a wide range of responses 
in Hungary. Circles that supported upholding the numerus clausus celebrated the 
results of the debate at the League of Nations enthusiastically. The newspaper 
Nemzeti Ujsdg published his speech in Geneva under the headline "Klebelsberg 
donto sikere a numerus clausus kerdeseben a Nepszovetseg elott" [Klebelsberg's 
decisive victory in the question of the numerus clausus at the League of Nations], 
and Gombos acknowledged Klebelsberg's speech given in Geneva with 
"recognition and relief at a dinner held by the Party for the Defense of the Race 
(Fajvedo Part), noting with glee that the Minister had taken a stand in support of 
the right wing movement. 

In a critical appraisal of Klebelsberg's contradictory statements, during his 
interpellation in the parliamentary session of 16 December Karoly Peyer posed 
the following question: "Does the government have any intention of placing 
before the House a proposal that repeals this act in the near future, and of taking 
action in order to wipe this stain of disgrace off the brows of the Hungarian 

1 % 

nation?" In his answer, Klebelsberg essentially repeated the gist of what he had 
said in Geneva, and cited the psychological factors preventing an amendment to 
the numerus clausus: the anti-Semitism triggered by the dictatorship of the 
proletariat in 1919 — "in which almost the whole of the leadership, and an 
overwhelming majority of the enforcement authorities were composed of 
immigrant Galician Jews" — as well as the catastrophic situation of the 
Hungarian middle class mean that an amendment of the Act will only be possible 
when "this can be achieved without disturbance to the process of consolidation, or 
any other serious trauma". 

11 MOL K 107-III/a; Societe des Nations - Journal Officiel (1926), 148-53, 171, 489; Haller, Hare 
a numerus clausus koriil, 203-11; Ereky, Az egyetemi szelekcio reformja, 3; Huszti, Grof 
Klebelsberg Kuno eletmuve, 196-7; Thomas Spira, Hungary's Numerus clausus, the Jewish 
Minority, and the League of Nation, Ungarn-Jahrbuch (Mainz: 1972), 115-28. 

12 National Szechenyi Library Archives, Manuscript Division, The letters of Kuno Klebelsberg to 
C.H. Becker. 

13 Nemzetgyulesi Naplo, 1922-XXXVIII-190. old., (1925, december 16.) 

14 Nemzetgyulesi Naplo, 1922-XXXVIII-193 old. (1925, december 15). 

Andor Laddnyi 

The following day, Pal Sandor, Rezso Rupert, Vilmos Vazsonyi, Pal 
Hegymegi-Kiss, and Bela Fabian struck out at the numerus clausus and the 
apparent lack of sincerity on the part of Klebelsberg, as well as the absurdity of 
his claims (such as the numerus clausus giving protection to Jews) in bitterly 
critical parliamentary speeches. Bethlen also spoke up in the course of the debate. 
He emphasized that over the past four years the government had been working to 
"ensure rapprochement, and a peaceful conclusion" to the Jewish question. He 
declared that though the numerus clausus proclaimed Jewry as a race, and a 
nationality, this was not the position the government took on the matter. "I 
consider those Jews who identify themselves as one with the Hungarian people 
[...] Hungarians of Jewish faith, and not a separate race" (adding however that 
there are also Jews in the country who do not ally themselves with the interests of 
the nation). 15 

The debate about the numerus clausus calmed down in the first half of 
1926. Though Anna Kethly did submit a draft resolution to repeal Act XXV of 
1920 on 17 May 1926, in the course of the National Assembly debate convened to 
discuss the budget for year 1926/27, in accord with the standing orders of the 
parliament this was not put forward for vote — as a draft resolution earlier 
submitted by her on the same question had already been voted down. Yet in the 
autumn of 1926, certain signs — seemingly at least — indicated a shift towards an 
amendment of the numerus clausus. 

The first of these signs was a degree of "moderation" brought to the 
numerus clausus Act in the form of two measures particularly, instituted by 
Klebelsberg, with Bethlen' s prior agreement, in regards to its implementation and 
interpretation. On 9 September he gave orders by telephone (!), for Christened 
Jewish applicants to receive equal treatment to Christian applicants, followed five 
days later by a second order, once again delivered by telephone, specifying that 
the 6 % of places kept for Jewish students be established not against the number 
of the students actually accepted to the educational institution concerned, but in 
relation to the full enrollment figure allotted (which meant an incremental 
increase in the number of places at faculties where the full bracket allotted could 
not be filled). An appeal for these two measures had in fact been part of a petition 
addressed to Bethlen in April 1926 by the Jewish Congregation of Pest. 

In his press release dealing with the first of his orders, Klebelsberg 
emphasized, with reference to his speech in Geneva, that "according to the 
unequivocal premises of the law on the free practice of religion to be a Jew is a 
denominational matter", and he called upon the rectors to follow courses of action 
in accord with this. He also mentioned that he had no intention to create 

15 N.U. 11 December 1925, 3-4; 13 December, 1. Az 1922. evi Junius ho 16-dra hirdetett 
Nemzetgyules Nyomtatvdnyai [Printed documents of the National Assembly convened for 16 June 
1922], Memorandum Vol. XXXVIII, 187-97, 199-224, 230-3; Haller, Hare a numerus clausus 
koriil, 212-8. 

Az 1922. evi Junius ho 16-dra hirdetett Nemzetgyules Nyomtatvdnyai [Printed documents of the 
National Assembly convened for 16 June 1922], Memorandum Vol. XLIII, 205-6, 214. 


Andor Laddnyi 

propaganda for Jewish conversion to Christianity, and therefore stipulated the 
lapse of one year after the conversion (in order to exclude the possibility of 
conversion for the sake of enrollment). The camaraderie associations and some 
organizations for racial defense were trenchantly critical of these orders. 
Klebelsberg held consultations first with the faculty members of the Large 
Committee for Youth (Hekler, Szily, Teleki, Vamossy), and then with the leaders 
of the camaraderie associations, amending the orders as a result, to state that every 
faculty independently determines in each case whether the conversion took place 
"in fraudem legis", that is, in order to subvert the law. This amendment meant a 
retreat in comparison to the measures of 9 September, leaving it a discretional 
decision vested solely in the authority of admissions committees at individual 
faculties. (According to the statement given by Dezso Baltazar, the democratically 
disposed bishop of the Trans-Tisza diocese of the Calvinist Church: "It is 
impossible for anyone to arbitrate what spiritual motives may have led someone to 
convert to another religion.") Nevertheless, this manner of "mitigation" in respect 
of the numerus clausus Act — by the declaration of Jewry as a denomination — 
meant the first breach in Act XXV of 1920 had been made. This interpretation of 
the orders also appeared in Jeno Rakosi's lead article of 17 September 1926. 17 

As pointed out by Vazsonyi in his earlier mentioned speech to the 
Parliament, the Hungarian Act only regulates conversion from the religious 
denomination, but how is it possible to leave race behind? Vazsonyi also cited the 
fact that the stipulations of the Act with regard to the proportions according to 
race and nationality were only applied with regard to Jews, and were never taken 
into account for those of German, Slovak, or other ethnic backgrounds. (It should 
be noted here that according to the 1 920 Census, the proportion of Germans was 
6.9 %, and 5.5 % according to the 1930 Census, while Slovaks came to 1.8 % and 
1.2 % respectively, and at the same time the proportion of their places in higher 
education during the 1920s was around 0.6 % for Germans, Slovaks not even 
coming to 0.1 %.) 18 

The question of the numerus clausus also came up in relation to the 
parliamentary elections of December 1926. In order to insure that the numerus 
clausus did not become an election slogan, in his letter to Bethlen, dated 19 
October 1926, Lorant Hegediis (ex-finance minister, and chairman of the 
Hungarian Trade Bank) proposed: let the leaders of Hungarian Jewry turn to Wolf 
with a request that the numerus clausus is not tabled by the League of Nations 

17 BME L138/1926-27. R; Egyenloseg (4 September 1926), 14; Egyenloseg (25 September 1926), 
1-2; Pesti Hirlap (17 September 1926), 1-2; P.N. (16 September 1926), 3; P.N. (28 September 
1926), 1-2; Pecsi Naplo (29 September 1926), 1; Ujsag (16 September 1926), 1, 3; P.N. (17 
September 1926), 1, 6; P.N. (18 September 1926), 2; P.N. (28 September 1926), 1. 

Az 1922. evi Junius ho 16-dra hirdetett Nemzetgyiiles Nyomtatvdnyai [Printed documents of the 
National Assembly convened for 16 June 1922], Memorandum Vol. XXXVIII, 219; Kovacs 
Alajos, A nemetek helyzete Csonka-Magyarorszdgon a statisztika megvilagitasaban (Budapest: 
1936), 35, 45; Kovacs Alajos, A totok helyzete Csonka-Magyarorszdgon a statisztika 
megvilagitasaban (Budapest: 1936), 25, 35. 

Andor Laddnyi 

before the elections. Klebelsberg — who was forwarded Hegediis's letter by 
Bethlen — did not agree with the course of action proposed by Hegediis, and at the 
same time, outlined his plans for amendments to the numerus clausus "in strictest 

Klebelsberg' s approach, and position on the numerus clausus — as apparent 
from the foregoing — was rather conflicting. His political duplicity — often referred 
to by his opponents, both left- and rightwing — also manifested itself in this 
matter. He himself professed his political views contradictorily. (Thus, for 
example, he took a stand against both left- and rightwing extremism in his 
electoral speech of 14 May 1922 in Sopron saying, "I serve the politics of the 
middle course", while at the meeting of the League of Nations, held on 26 
November 1926, he positioned himself unequivocally in support of conservative, 
right-wing politics.) However, his position on the numerus clausus was also 
motivated by obvious tactical considerations, the balance of political forces, as 
well as the political aims prioritizing the support of the middle class that stood for 
"a racial profile matching historical traditions" (in Bethlen's words), and not lastly 
by an attention to the role and weight of university student organizations under the 
sway of extreme right forces. For this reason, the contents of his reply on 3 
November 1926 are important, and may be seen to express his actual position. In 
this letter he set down that phrased as § 3 of the numerus clausus was, "the Cour 
Permanent of the Hague could not be approached with any hope of success [...] 
The Act must therefore be revised, but not so as to inflict thousands of Jewish 
university students upon the nation, but in order to save the essence of the 
institution at the cost of easing it to a well-defined rational degree." He did not 
however think it would be right to introduce the changes prior to the elections. In 
his opinion the objective was that the League of Nations does not set the matter on 
the December meeting's agenda, and that an amendment be only introduced after 
the elections. 

Bethlen, however, believed that it would be expedient to raise the need for 
modifications to the numerus clausus Act in the run up to the elections, primarily 
in order to divide the liberal opposition, and win as many Jewish voters over as 
possible, while also appeasing the Christian middle class by framing it in a 
suitably cautious way. In his electoral speech of 16 November 1926 held in the 
Vigado, he stressed that the legally guaranteed equality of the Jewish religious 
denomination must "be protected from the slightest impairment by all means", 
and the government is duty bound to persecute and suppress any agitation against 
those belonging to the Jewish faith. In this context he also addressed the numerus 
clausus. He repeated Klebelsberg's Geneva declaration of December 1925, 
defining the institution as a transitory one, and went on to mention the two sides 
of the question: the sense of resentment on the Jewish side stemming from the 

19 Szinai Miklos es Sziics Laszlo (eds.) Bethlen Istvdn titkos iratai, (Secret papers of Istvan 
Bethlen), Budapest, Kossuth, 1972. 256-257 

20 Szinai Miklos es Szucs Laszlo (eds.) Bethlen Istvdn titkos iratai, (Secret papers of Istvan 
Bethlen), Budapest, Kossuth, 1972. 256-257 


Andor Laddnyi 

unjust treatment, "which will not be spirited away by any type of dialectic or 
formula however anyone may try", and the fear on the part of the Christian middle 
class for the future, the living to be earned by their progeny. However, he did not 
speak of a date for the amendment of the Act. (As an account by the racist journal 
later recorded, "though [Bethlen] did promise an amendment to the Act, as usual, 
he framed the matter not only for the liberals, but also for the nationalist, Christian 
society at large, so what the government is in fact preparing to do could not be 
clearly gleaned from his words.") In the course of the electoral campaign, 
numerous other representatives of the Unity Party also spoke about an amendment 
to the numerus clausus Act; the journal Egyenloseg claimed 74 Unity Party 
members of parliament promised to repeal the act. 

Yet once the elections were over, silence settled once again over the 
numerus clausus. At the parliamentary debate of the 1927/1928 State Budget on 
13 May 1927, Bela Fabian commented rather dryly on how those members of 
parliament "who took to the cities, loudly demanding that the numerus clausus be 
swept out" were now mute, and had not stood by their promises. In his draft 
resolution he pressed for changes to the numerus clausus Act. Klebelsberg's 
response in this matter was the following: The Bethlen Cabinet has repeatedly 
said that when the occasion presents itself the Act should be amended, and 
revised. As for the time appropriate for this, the government did not make a fix 
statement, noting only that the material situation of a broad strata of the middle 
class must improve in a degree that means these wide segments of middle-class 
citizens do not see their own or their children's future threatened by the 
elimination of the numerus clausus. This time, so far as the government can 
appreciate, has not yet come, though we all would welcome its arrival." On these 
grounds the parliament — in line with the practice of previous years — rejected the 
draft resolution. 

The genesis of the amendment 

Albeit an amendment to the numerus clausus Act had been made years 
overdue in terms of what the process of consolidation would have demanded, it 
actually found its way to the agenda under the force of external factors. For in its 
petition to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations dated 4 September 

Sopron vdrmegye, (16 May 1922), 3; Az 1922. evi Junius ho 16-dra hirdetett Nemzetgyiiles 
Nyomtatvdnyai [Printed documents of the National Assembly convened for 16 June 1922], 
Memorandum Vol. XXXVII, 28; Egyenloseg (20 November 1926), 1; Egyenloseg (18 December 
1926), 1; Magyarsdg (20 October 1927), 1; Bethlen Istvdn titkos iratai [Count Istvan Bethlen. The 
secret Manuscripts], (Budapest: 1972), 255-7; Bethlen Istvdn grof beszedei es irdsai Vol. 2 
[Speeches and writings by Count Istvan Bethlen], (Budapest: 1933), 152-3. 

22 Az 1927. evi januar ho 25-ere hirdetett Orszaggyules Kepviselohazanak Naploja [House of 
Parliament Memorandum for 25 January 1927], Vol. IV, 67-8, 71-3, 93-4. It is worthy of note 
that in the course of an Italian trip in April 1927, in a statement he made to a journalist, Bethlen 
said that the numerus clausus law would be revoked within a reasonable time. (MOL K 429. 
Adatgyujtemeny [Collection of data], Bundle 2.) 

Andor Laddnyi 

1927, the Alliance Israelite Universelle drew attention to the fact that though in 
the period that had elapsed since the December 1925 sessions of the League of 
Nations Hungary's situation had much improved, the unjust, and so far as a 
certain category of Hungarian citizens was concerned, detrimental Act had still 
not been amended. For this reason it asked: would it not be appropriate for the 
League of Nations to review the question once more? On 14 September 1927, 
Lucien Wolf also sent a letter with similar contents. 

The Hungarian government — seeing, as it wanted to avoid the issue being 
tabled once more by the League of Nations Council — was forced to take steps. In 
his Geneva talks of October 1 927 Bethlen made express promises of a soon to be 
realized amendment to the Act. Bethlen announced the fact at the Unity Party 
meeting of 19 October 1927. "Though we do not desire to annul the intentions or 
socio-political significance of the Act," he said, "those measures, which have 
caused rather strong aversion and antipathy among a number of Hungarian 
citizens for years now, and have also been addressed by the League of Nations 
must be eliminated from it. This [. . .] will be legislative work that is necessary and 
unavoidable, and which signifies a step further in this field, without eliminating 
the institution itself or its significance." 

Early the following day, Klebelsberg also published a press release on an 
amendment to the numerus clausus. He let it be known that the draft of the 
amendment "was at such an early stage of inception that at the moment it is 
plainly impossible to give account of it. From a social perspective, many consider 
the numerus clausus worth keeping in place for the moment; however, the opinion 
abroad is that the law is targeted against the Jews. In the course of my 
negotiations abroad I have signaled clearly that at the time at which the 
government sees it appropriate from a social point of view, it will bring changes 
to the regulations contained in the law." He emphasized that he himself never 
identified with the law, "it had come down to me as one of the arduous tasks 
inherited by the Ministry of Culture", and that he considered mainly § 3 of the Act 
as necessarily to be revoked. In another proclamation within a few days 
Klebelsberg restated that "there are no plans to repeal the numerus clausus itself, 
it must be kept in place as a socio-political regulation, while it would be expedient 
to drop § 3 of the Act. 24 

The press of the liberal opposition initially received these announcements 
of the amendment with cautious satisfaction, and considered it a step towards 
repealing the numerus clausus. It shortly transpired however that in this sense, 
only the preservation of appearances could be expected. According to the lead 
article of Esti Kurir, it was clear from the press releases that "the gentlemen are 
still disposed towards maintaining the institution of the numerus clausus, and are 
only going to give a few token measures a try," the words, resounding 
phraseology is addressed to Geneva. The journal of the social democrats 

23 MOLK107. Ill/a. 

24 Magyarsag (26 October 1927), 1-2; 8 orai Ujsdg (21 October 1927), 1; Bethlen Istvdn grof 
beszedei es irdsai Vol. 2, 19. 


Andor Laddnyi 

approached the matter skeptically right from the beginning, "only the aspect is to 
change, the essence will remain," it said on 21 October, they will be watching to 
insure that the denominational limits — which are at the heart of the Act — prevail 
in the future. In her article of 23 October, Anna Kethly gave emphasis to the same 
notions. 5 

The announcement of the amendment was received, on the other hand, 
with heated protest by the camp aligned in favor of the numerus clausus — 
including the party for racial defense and other organizations on the extreme right, 
as well as professors who held the same beliefs as these political movements, a 
greater part of the delegates of the Christian Economic and Social Party, and last 
but certainly not least, the associations of camaraderie. Among those who took a 
stand opposed to the amendment were Gyula Gombos, Istvan Friedrich, Istvan 
Haller, Tibor Eckhardt, Karoly Wolff, while the associations of camaraderie, 
which were in close contact with the forces on the extreme right, stepped up their 
violent actions. They began — on 21 and 22 October — with a series of disgraceful 
demonstrations against reruns of Dezso Szomory's play, A nagyasszony [The 
dowager] at the National Theater, even requiring police intervention, followed 
from 24 October onwards by a continuation of the atrocities on university 
campuses known already from previous years (identity checks at the entrances to 
the university buildings, removal, and insult of Jewish students). The resolution 
adopted at the general assembly held by the Turul Alliance on 24 October called 
for a "defense" of the numerus clausus Act. The Emericana did not participate in 
the breaches of order, but in its declaration, took a position in opposition to the 
amendment of the numerus clausus. The issue of continued atrocities committed 
at universities was raised in the parliament by opposition delegates, Jozsef Pakots 
and Karoly Rassay. In his reply, Klebelsberg made a formal pledge to halt the 
"breaches of order", but found that the use of too strong disciplinary measures 
inexpedient (emphasizing that these were "our children. And a Minister of Culture 
must feel tenderly for them under all circumstances.") The atrocities spread to 
rural universities as well. Klebelsberg held meetings with the leaders of the 
associations of camaraderie on two occasions, but order was only restored on 
university campuses after the four-day holiday at the beginning of November. 

In the meantime, progress had been made at the Ministry in the matter of 
the amendment to Act XXV of 1920, and Klebelsberg proposed the draft law at 

25 E.K (21 October 1927), 1; E.K (22 October 1927), 1; E.K (27 October 1927), 1; Nepszava (21 
October 1927), I; Nepszava (23 October 1927), 7. 

26 BME L MRT, meeting of 27 October 1927 minutes; ELTE L 1004/1927-28 BX; D.F.U. (27 
October 1927), 5; D.F.U. (28 October 1927), 1-2; D.F.U. (29 October 1927), 4; E.K. (25 October 
1927), 1-3; E.K. (26 October 1927), 3; E.K. (28 October 1927), 1-2; E.K. (29 October 1927), 5; 
E.K. (30 October 1927), 2; Emericana (November-December 1927), 3; Pecsi Naplo (29 October 
1927), 2; SzUJM (27 October 1927), 1-2; SzUJM (28 October 1927), 1; Az 1927. evi januar ho 
25-ere hirdetett Orszaggyiiles Kepviselohazanak Naploja [House of Parliament Memorandum for 
25 January 1927], Vol. VI, 139-42, 197-202; Pal Rez, Szomory Dezso alkotdsai es vallomdsai 
tukreben [Dezso Szomory as reflected in his works and confssions], (Budapest: 1971), 208-12. 

Andor Laddnyi 

the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 4 November 1927. Klebelsberg 
outlined the internal and foreign policy implications of the issue. He reflected on 
the fact that the League of Nations had brought a postponed resolution on the 
matter, which would be on the agenda again in the December sessions. Foreign 
Minister Walko, in reply to Klebelsberg' s query made it clear: "I do not think the 
government would be able to take a successful stand in Geneva with the numerus 
clausus at present, or that it could defend the government positions heretofore, 
with any success." Klebelsberg requested that record of the important reply be 
kept in the minutes. Bethlen explained that "were Hungary not to follow the 
resolution of the League of Nations against the numerus clausus [...] this would 
bear serious consequences for the Hungarian minorities torn out of Hungary by 
the Treaty of Trianon." In course of the debate, Minister of the Interior, 
Scitovszky expressed an opinion that the Jews were reacting over-sensitively to 
the numerus clausus, while the Welfare and Labor minister, Jozsef Vass informed 
the Council of Ministers that the Christian Party was "committed to the principals 
of the numerus clausus Act." The Foreign Minister let the house know that the 
League of Nations had given Hungary an extension until 30 November to take 
steps in the matter. The government therefore had two alternatives: either to ask 
for another two-month extension, or to resolve the issue immediately. In closing 
the debate, Bethlen proponed that politically the soundest course of action would 
be if Klebelsberg would submit a draft law as soon as possible, and accordingly, 
the Council of Ministers approved the presentation of the draft law to the 



The first half of November saw animated debate on the draft amendment 
of the numerus clausus Act. In its proclamation of 5 November, the Large 
Committee for Youth (Ifjusagi Nagybizottsag) — signed by a number of teachers 
in the Large Committee — held it necessary to uphold § 3 of the Act, calling upon 
Hungarian society to support its struggle. The most intransigent organization 
under the Turul umbrella, the Csaba Association of Camaraderie took a stand in 
favor of the numerus clausus at its meeting to elect its officials on 13 November. 
On the very same day, at the plenary meeting of the Committee for Protection of 
the Numerus Clausus formed by the Federation of Civil Associations, passionate 
speeches were made denouncing the amendment of the Act (and Klebelsberg 
personally) by Eckhardt, Wolff, Gombos and Milotay. On November 15, the 
seven largest youth associations delivered a memorandum to the two Houses of 
Parliament, demanding that Act XXV of 1920 be preserved exactly as it stood, 
and also abided by § 3 of the Act. 

On 16 November the daily Esti Kurir published the text of the amendment, 
while the newspaper Nemzeti Ujsdg reported the planned amendment to the third 
paragraph of § 3 on the basis of information from "inside sources", adding: "The 
government seeks, through other measures as well, to insure that careers requiring 
education are not flooded, and to give opportunities to future generations of the 

27 MOL K 27. - MT, meeting of 4 November 1927 minutes, Agenda Item No. 29. 


Andor Laddnyi 

Christian middle class." At noon on the same day, Bethlen held consultations with 
ministers Klebelsberg, Vass, Scitovsky and Pesthy on some of the problems with 
the amendment, and then met Gyula Gombos in the early afternoon. Bethlen and 
Klebelsberg presented the draft law at the meeting of the Christian Party in the 
evening, also making an effort to convince delegates of this Party that they would 
attend to the protection of "Christian interests" in course of its implementation. 
The Party did not take a position on the proposed Act, passing a resolution to take 
a proper stance at a following meeting, after closer study of the draft. 

The following day, Bethlen and Klebelsberg presented the proposed law at 
the meeting of the Unity Party. Klebelsberg referred to the antecedents to the Act 
(mentioning that the amendment to the text of the incriminated § 3 had been 
accepted by only 59 of the 219 delegates in the National Assembly), and stressed 
that both foreign and internal policy give ample cause for the current amendment 
to the Act. In view of the repeated attacks launched against Klebelsberg by the 
extreme right, Bethlen emphatically underscored that the amendment to the law is 
a government proposal, a matter of policy, and he felt complete solidarity with 
Klebelsberg. Also in arguing for the necessity of the amendment, Bethlen at the 
same time stated, in order to calm sentiments — but to the consternation of liberal 
circles — that though there are bound to be changes in consequence of the 
modifications where the principles of selection were concerned, "they will not be 
so significant as to satisfy everyone". He finally repeated that the amendment was 
an "eminent political proposal," the government is bound by it, and therefore 
requests that the Party makes an affirmative vote on it compulsory for its 
delegates. The Party Assembly adopted the foregoing — without further 

In the early hours of the day on 18 November, Bethlen continued his 
meetings first reassuring Pal Teleki, the faculty chair of the Youth Large 
Committee, that the amendment does not mean a neglect for the "interests of 
Christians", followed by discussions with Klebelsberg, and later with Bela Turi, 
one of the leaders of the Christian Party, who intended to add a change to the text 
of the draft law. After this, on the same day, Klebelsberg presented the draft law, 
which came to only two articles to the Parliament. According to its first section, 
the following text would replace § 3 of Act XXV, 1920: 

"In granting permission to enroll, apart from the requirements of national 
allegiance and moral reliability, attention should be given on the one hand, to the 
previous educational record and intellectual abilities of the applicant, and on the 
other, to ensuring that war orphans and the children of war veterans in the first 
place, but also the children of public servants and people in various lines of 
occupations (agriculture, industry, trade, independent professions etc.) enter 
institutions of higher education in numbers proportionate to the numbers and 

28 E.K. (16 November 1927), 1; E.K. (17 November 1927), 1; Magyarsag (12 November 1927), 1; 
Magyarsag (17 November 1927), 1-2; N.U. (6 November 1927), 1; N.U. (16 November 1927), 3; 
N.U. (17 November 1927), 3; N.U. (18 November 1927), 5-6. 

Andor Laddnyi 

significance of those belonging to these lines of work, and their distribution also 
be equitable by municipality. The Minister for Religion and Public Education is 
responsible for overseeing that these laws are implemented properly." 

The justification for the draft law argued the necessity for the application 
of a quota system, which called for a preservation of § 1, Act XXV of 1920 in 
unmodified form, whilst the third paragraph which "was the cause of numerous 
misunderstandings [...] both on the part of a segment of international opinion and 
by Hungarian Jewry", needs amendment (noting also that it was not a part of the 
original draft law, and "bears in it the traits of rather desultory legislative 
work"). 29 

The — contentious — requirement of "sportsmanlike physical fitness" as a 
criterion of acceptance was left out of the draft, and so was a covert attempt at 
reinstating proportional distribution according to racial and nationality numbers 
encapsulated in the proposed amendment of Turi. The Liberal and Social 
Democrat opposition trenchantly criticized the, now officially public, draft law. 
"The draft law was born — said Rassay — of cowardice both outwards and inwards. 
False in its premise, a mess in its text, and senseless in its content." According to 
the social democrat Istvan Farkas, "the government is merely playing politics, and 
fabricating a showcase law for the international audience." "Each line of the text 
and every pathetic sentence of the justification is hypocrisy and deceit," Esti Kurir 

However, a certain measure of calm was brought to the right-wing by the 
proposal (taking account of the information disseminated with regard to the 
implementation of the Act, and Klebelsberg's statements claiming that the number 
of Jewish students will rise minimally as a result of the amendment). A better part 
of the delegates of the Christian Party now considered the changes more-or-less 
acceptable, and the intensity of resistance from the racists had also waned 
palpably. Albeit a number of representatives of the Christian Party and the racial 
preservationists declared — if merely for show — that they would vote against the 
draft law, this was no threat to its adoption, and even seemed an advantage to the 
government if the changes were embattled both from the left and the right, 
because "it proves that the middle way it has taken is right." 

The associations of camaraderie however, were not successfully appeased: 
on 18 November, upon news of the draft law, the atrocities on university 
campuses commenced — not for the first, or last time in the history of the Horthy 
period since August 1919 — , beginning at the institutions of higher education in 
Budapest, and a few days later, at the provincial universities as well (in the case of 
the latter, as Klebelsberg put it, "like an electric switch turned on, by orders from 
Budapest"). Klebelsberg consulted with the Minister of the Interior at length on 
the atrocities committed at the universities, and then declared that in as much as 
the disturbances continue he will be forced to close the institutions. According to 

Az 1927. evi janudr ho 25-ere osszehivott Orszdggyules Kepviselohdzdnak Iromdnyai [Written 
material of the Parliamentary session of 25 January 1927], Vol. VI, 434-7. 
30 E.K (18 November 1927), 1-2; E.K (19 November 1927), 3. 


Andor Laddnyi 

the 22 November resolution adopted by the council of the Turul Alliance, it only 
"deems the intention of the law assured if the original text of the Act is left 
unchanged, and the absolutely mandatory determination of proportional numbers 
by race are determined", as for the case if the amendment is accepted, it would 
apply all its means towards the reinstatement of the original text. The same day, 
Pal Hegymegi-Kiss denounced the fights breaking out at universities in a speech 
at parliament. Klebelsberg replied in a pre-session speech in the Parliament the 
next day, calling the disturbances at the universities "highly regrettable" and 
promising to restore order. Following this, Pal Hegymegi-Kiss submitted an 
interpellation in the matter, holding the measures taken by the university 
authorities, as well as the Minister inadequate. Jozsef Pakots also lodged an 
interpellation on the issue of the atrocities ongoing at universities. The 
interpellations stressed the role of the associations of camaraderie and the 
responsibility of Pal Teleki, the faculty chair of the Youth Large Committee. In an 
order delivered by telephone on the same day, 23 November, the head of the 
concerned department of the Ministry of Education, Zoltan Magyary let the 
rectors of the universities know: make it clear to the student body that "unless 
lasting peace and order are restored" by 26 November, he would order the closure 
of the university. Klebelsberg also raised the matter of the disturbances in the 
universities at the Council of Ministers on 25 November. The Council resolved 
that "in case of continued demonstrations the university must be shut down", and 
saw it necessary to carry out a reform of university youth organizations at a later 
date. Disturbances ceased at the universities by the end of November (with some 
sources maintaining that Gombos had a role in this). 

It must also be mentioned that in the second half of November, the 
National Association of Hungarian Doctors, the National Federation of Architects 
and the recently formed National Association of Hungarian Lawyers took a 
position for numerus clausus to be upheld in unchanged form. The proposal to 
append the draft law with the Turi amendment came up again at the 29 November 
meeting of the Christian Party, and Haller had prepared a new text for the draft 
law, however Under-Secretary of State, Pal Petri made a statement that the 
government is committed to the submitted text of the draft law, and Bethlen 
carried this version for debate at the League of Nations to be held in Geneva on 2 

31 MOL K 27. - MT, meeting of 25 November 1927 minutes, Agenda Item No. 20; BML Az 
Erzsebet Tudomanyegyetem iratai [Archives of Erzsebet University] 2426/1927-28. R; Csaba 
(1927): 29; Csaba (1928): 1-3; D.F.U. (22 November 1927), 1; D.F.U. (25 November 1927), 1-2 
D.F.U. (26 November 1927), 1; E.K. (19 November 1927), 1-2; E.K. (20 November 1927), 1-3 
E.K. (22 November 1927), 5-6; E.K. (23 November 1927), 3-4; E.K. (24 November 1927), 1 
E.K. (25 November 1927), 3; E.K. (26 November 1927), 3; N.U. (22 November 1927), 3; N.U. (23 
November 1927), 3-4; N.U. (24 November 1927), 1; 8 Oral Ujsag (20 November 1927), 1-2; 8 
Oral Ujsag (22 November 1927), 1-2; 8 Oral Ujsag (25 November 1927), 3; Pecsi Naplo (22 
November 1927), 2; Pecsi Naplo (23 November 1927), 1; Pecsi Naplo (25 November 1927), 2-3; 
Pecsi Naplo (26 November 1927), 1; Sz.U.N. (22 November 1927), 1-2; Sz.U.N. (23 November 
1927), 1-4; Az 1927. evi januar ho 25-ere hirdetett Orszaggyules Kepviselohazanak Naplqja 
[House of parliament memorandum for 25 January 1927], Vol. VII, 22-5, 27-9, 58-61. 

Andor Laddnyi 

December. Meanwhile, on Bethlen's orders, a lawyer from Pest held negotiations 
in Paris with the leaders of the Alliance, and even managed to contact Lucien 
Wolf himself. He reported back to Bethlen: the negotiations were successful, the 
parties had been persuaded not to table the submission for debate at the League of 
Nations. (According to Wolfs letter: "We can not state that we are completely 
satisfied with the proposal, however it does remove all references to 
discrimination by race or religion [. . .] and this is what we had requested. The new 
categories which have been added to the law seem uncalled-for [...] and there 
remains the possibility that they will be used to serve anti-Semitic goals, however 
we are not at the moment aiming to criticize these." He declared that they are 
ready to accept the assurances of the Hungarian government, "as given in good 
faith".) 32 

Parliamentary debate on the draft law 

Only the delivery of the draft law to the League of Nations before the 
December summit was a matter of urgency for the government, its debate in 
parliament was put off until February 1928, in expectation of passions stirred by 
the amendment of the Act abating by then. Prior to commencing the parliamentary 
debate, Bethlen repeated his call for the delegates to vote for the draft law at the 9 
February meeting of the Unity Party, while the Christian Party had resolved at its 
meeting on 25 January that its delegates may take positions "dictated by their own 
conscience and at their discretion" in the parliamentary debate. 

The general debate on the draft law began on 9 February 1928, and 
continued through seven sessions of parliament until 24 February, while the 
debate on its particulars was held on 28 February. The debate showed a number of 
peculiarities. One of these was conspicuous disinterest (for example, at the start of 
the debate on 10 February, a mere 34 members of parliament were present, 
instead of the 40 required for the parliament to hold council; but even following 
the first speech after recess, only 41, and even at the start of the next day of 
parliament in session, on 17 February, there were only 37 present). The absence in 
government benches was especially conspicuous; on one occasion, for example, 
there were only two members present. Another peculiarity of the debate was that 
only five of altogether 25 speakers supported the draft law, while its detractors 
included 14 delegates, largely belonging to the social democrat and liberal 
opposition camps — who agreed with Pal Hegymegi Kiss's draft resolution and 
called for Act XXV of 1920 to be repealed — on the one hand, and 6 delegates 
who belonged to the Christian Party or the racial preservationists, demanding that 
the numerus clausus be upheld in an unmodified form. 

32 National Szechenyi Library Archives, Manuscript Collection, 15/141; Magyarsdg, 1927. nov. 
30.1-2, dec. 1. 6.; N. U. 1927. dec. 14. 6.; 8 Orai Ujsag, 1927. dec. 1. 3, dec 7. 1.; MONE 
Orvostarsadalmi Szemle, 1927. 229-230.; Technika, 1927. nov. 30.1-2. 


Andor Laddnyi 

Representatives of the democratic opposition placed emphasis primarily on 
equal rights and freedom of the choice of school, the demands of consolidation, 
while pointing out the lack of honesty where the draft law and its justification 
were concerned, as well as the contradiction between the socio-political reasoning 
behind it and the way things stood in reality. 

Thus Daniel Varnai, in a rather thorough speech, gave voice to his 
conviction that the amendment of the law will not bring change in comparison to 
the earlier situation. He gave convincing proof to the effect that the sociopolitical 
considerations had not in the least prevailed in practice, the number of students 
had incrementally increased until the middle of the twenties — outpacing numbers 
prior to the World War — and with the proportional increase in the number of law 
students, the composition of the student body had also taken a turn for the worse, 
while the growth of the intellectual proletariat can be stopped not by limiting the 
freedom of choice of school, but by extending the opportunities of employment. 
In his excellent speech, Marcell Baracs mainly analyzed the legal implications of 
the matter, the ways in which Act XXV of 1920 — and its implementation — 
contradicted the basic tenets of Hungarian public law in those aspects which 
violated equal rights under the law, and drew attention to the double meanings, 
dishonesty, and contradictions present in the draft law. Anna Kethly spoke about 
how the numerus clausus smites the poor Jews primarily, whose children, having 
been squeezed out of universities in Hungary, have to study abroad in penurious 
conditions, while the government, in line with its class policy seeks to reinforce 
"an intellectual praetorian guard". She followed this with an elucidation of the 
problems, unintelligibility and dangers of the criteria for admissions. Other 
notable words from the leftist opposition worthy of mention are the observations 
of Geza Malasits, highlighting the need for the mitigation of social conflicts and 
for change of outlook among young people at universities; while some liberal 
representatives of Jewish faith — especially Pal Sandor — examined the social 
causes of anti-Semitism in a way that fell short in terms of nuance and 
differentiation, their speeches characterized in part by denominational bias. 

Representatives of the Christian Party and the racial preservationists who 
demanded that the law be upheld in unchanged form — Bela Turi, Gyula 
Petrovacz, Aladar Kontra, Janos Kossalka, Karoly Wolff and Gyula Gombos — 
engaged primarily with the Jewish question, proclaiming Jewry a race, and 
asserting their predominance in economic life and in certain intellectual 
professions, and the interests of the Christian middle class and the demands of 
racial preservation. 

Gyorgy Lukacs, who belonged to the liberal wing of the Unity Party and — 
as mentioned earlier — had opposed the numerus clausus from before, believed the 
complicated admissions criteria inexpedient, and accepted talent and excellence in 
the advancement of knowledge alone as the principle of selection, but 
nevertheless approved the draft law, which in his opinion, "meant a significant 
step forward in the gradual annulment of the scope of the institution of the 
numerus clausus'". Other liberal representatives of the Unity Party — Gabor Ugron, 


Andor Laddnyi 

Istvan Barczy and Geza Desi, among others — did not take the floor in the debate 
on the draft law. . . 

In his speech of 23 February, Klebelsberg essentially repeated the 
arguments he had set forth in the autumn of the previous year. He alluded to the 
circumstances in which Act XXV of 1920 had come into being, that the original 
draft law "had in fact no aspect but the socio-political one [...] The proposal 
gained a racial, ethnic edge by way of the Bernolak amendment." He emphasized 
that with its elimination the draft law reinstates the position of Act XVII of 1867 
and Act XLIV of 1895, where in terms of the law, Jewry in Hungary counts as a 
denomination. He argued the case for upholding quotas as a necessity in the 
course of admissions (raising the possibility of introducing an examination to sift 
students at the end of the first year). He referred to the role of foreign policy 
impacting upon the law (primarily from the point of view of the situation of 
Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries), and promoted the preeminence of 
positive measures to be taken in the interest of the further education of the 
children of the middle class. In speeches he gave later in the course of the detailed 
debate of the draft law he was not able to substantially refute the objections to the 
criteria of selection, which he himself considered artificial. 

Finally the Parliament adopted the draft law of amendment to the Act of 
1920 — rejecting the resolutions proposed by the opposition, and adopting the 
smaller amendment proposed by Elemer Farkas, serving to strengthen the 
category of public servants — with a majority of 139 against 34 votes. (The 
following change was made by way of Farkas 's addition: "war orphans and 
children of men who had performed army service on the front, of people in public 
service, as well as [...]".) 

When the parliamentary debate of the draft law began the university 
students held a "silent strike" — on the initiative of the Turul and MEFHOSZ 
(National Association of Hungarian university and college students) 
organizations — and did not attend lectures for a few days; but there was no 
serious breach of order (with the exception of the events at the University of 
Technology). (As Istvan Szenteh, leader of the association "Csaba" announced at 
their commemorative camp on 14 March 1928: "Certain oblique innuendos and 
ambiguous promises have been made with requests that Hungarian youth remain 
calm, and wait patiently: for even after the amendment everything shall remain as 
it had been.") Klebelsberg had in fact, in his own words, put "rather strong 
pressure" on extreme right circles to "refrain from any form of demonstration" 
during the parliamentary debate of the draft law. (At the same time the chief 
officer of police in Budapest had also banned the assemblies of the Social 
Democratic Party, claiming that the tense atmosphere generated by the debate of 

The Parliamentary debate: Az 1927. evi janudr ho 25-ere hirdetett Orszdggyules 
Kepviselohdzdnak Napldja [House of parliament memorandum for 25 January 1927], Vol. VIII, 
438^15; ibid. Vol. IX, 1-18, 22-41, 43-61, 71-94, 96-115, 117-37, 140-57, 183-209, 227-37; L. 
Nagy, Bethlen liberdlis ellenzeke, 190-193. 


Andor Laddnyi 

the draft law a calm conclusion to the public meetings is not seen to be 
guaranteed.) 34 

The debate on the draft law in the Upper House of Parliament took place 
on 13-14 March 1928. Of fifteen speakers, six were in support of the change, five 
were against — mainly on grounds of the liberal principles of equal rights and 
freedom of choice of school — , while four (among them three university 
professors) stressed the need for the numerus clausus Act to be held in place as it 
stood, and were against the amendment. 

The speeches for the amendment are not peculiarly noteworthy. Albert 
Berzeviczy, President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences appraised Act XXV 
of 1920 critically, for its dishonesty and inefficacy, and denounced the 
disturbances at the universities the previous autumn (touching upon the 
responsibility of the teachers leading the associations of camaraderie) and the 
lenient approach shown towards the perpetrators of the atrocities and breaches of 
order, describing the actual application of the criteria set out in the draft law as 
unfeasible. He nevertheless accepted the draft law, for otherwise the Act of 1920, 
"which was even worse than this draft", would remain in force. According to 
count Pal Esterhazy, "the country had seen worse" than this draft, and he accepted 
it in view of "its being necessary". 

Among the statements of those rejecting the draft law with the 
requirements of equal rights and the freedom of choice in schooling the speech of 
Dezso Baltazar is notable for its rejection of racial or religious discrimination, the 
numerus clausus Law for its contradiction of universal human rights, and as a 
codification of fear and hatred". Setting the fundamental significance of equal 
rights before the law in relief, Jozsef Pap, Chairman of the Budapest Bar 
Association pointed out that Act XXV of 1920 was "offensive, injurious and 
demeaning for Hungarian Jewry", and "conflicted with Hungarian public law, and 
Hungarian constitutionalism", but the proposed change "was just as bad, just as 
mistaken" as the original Act, contradicting equal rights and limiting the freedom 
of choice of schools. 

Among right wing opponents of the amendment, Pal Teleki detailed the 
broad conquests of Jewry in the economic sphere in his voluminous speech, 
emphasizing that a "battle between races was at issue", rolling out extensive 
quotes in evidence of Jewry being a race, qualifying the amendment as a 
"discreditable draft". The rector of the University of Technology, Kalman Szily 
gave precedence to the powerful sense of anti-Semitism after 1919 as the context 
of the creation of the numerus clausus Act, and examined its causes: the role of 
Jewry during the World War and at the time of the revolutions (especially the 

34 BME L Miiegyetemi Tanacs 1928. Marc. 30-i tiles jkv. [Minutes of the 30 March 1928 meeting 
of the Council of the University of Technology]; KLTE It E.T. Minutes of the meetings on 10, 11, 
12, 13, and 15 February 1928; Csaba (1928): 10; Dm. (11 February 1928), 1; Dm. (12 February 
1928), 7; Dm. (14 February 1928), 3; Dm. (15 February 1928), 3.; Az 1927. evi januar ho 25-ere 
hirdetett Orszaggyiiles Kepviselohazanak Naploja [House of parliament memorandum for 25 
January 1927], Vol. IX, 174-5. 

Andor Laddnyi 

activities of the Galilei Circle). In order to support the Hungarian Christian middle 
class and halt the free competition which lead to the increase of the proportion of 
Jews in intellectual professions, he stressed the need for upholding the numerus 
clausus Act. Alajos Wolkenberg, Professor in the Faculty of Divinity at the 
Budapest University of Sciences held the denominational limits reasonable, and in 
commenting upon its social implications — similarly to Szily — cited the swift 
growth of Jewry in Hungary and its role during the War and the revolutions, 
mentioning the mood of Hungarian youth, and considered it in line with the 
objectives of Christian conservative politics to hold the Act in place. 

In his speech, Klebelsberg took a measured stance against the extreme 
views, explaining the lack of stronger measures against participants of the 
atrocities, but also taking exception to certain views on the extreme right. 
(However, in relation to Teleki's remarks he did not on this occasion take a 
position on the issue of whether Jewry is to be considered a race, or not.) Once 
again he was not able to rebut the critical comments voiced on the principles of 
selection in the admissions process, only giving expression to his opinion that 
"this Act could be implemented equitably". The majority of the Upper House of 
Parliament finally accepted the draft law. 35 

Notwithstanding that the acceptance of the draft law in both the Upper and 
Lower House of Parliament was an assurance as far as the position of the Unity 
Party was concerned, and the groups opposing the amendment had repeatedly 
been given promises well publicized in the press with regard to the new law not 
bringing any significant change compared to the practice of previous years, the 
question may still be raised, why their delegates took such trenchant positions in 
the course of the argument. This problem cannot be resolved unequivocally on the 
basis of information available today. Taking into consideration that their 
followers — the associations of camaraderie not least among them — expected, as a 
matter of course, a forceful delivery of their political views as one of the 
determining circumstances, it is perhaps likely that a sham resistance may be 
spoken of in this instance. 

"The proof of the pudding": implementation of the act 

Preparations for the implementation of the Act were under way at the 
ministry even before the parliamentary debate commenced: on 4 February 1928 
the institutions of higher education were requested to urgently provide data for 
first-year Jewish students in the academic years from 1920/21 to 1927/28. (For 
official statistics only covered the denominational distribution of the student body 
as a whole.) Klebelsberg held confidential discussions with the rectors and deans 
on 28 May regarding the questions raised by the implementation of the Act. 

35 Parliamentary debate on the draft law: Az 1927. evi janudr ho 2 5 -ere hirdetett Orszaggyules 
Felsohazanak Naploja [House of parliament memorandum for 25 January 1927], Vol. II, 101-19, 


Andor Laddnyi 

(Although Klebelsberg had explicitly emphasized the confidential nature of the 
discussion, Lajos Mehely, the dean of the Budapest Faculty of Arts — and father of 
race theory in Hungary — informed the newspaper of the racial preservationists on 
the discussion and also reported it in detail at the faculty meeting. The Minister 
presented the fundamental principles of the implementation, the contents of the 
executive regulation to be issued. He considered it obligatory that all applicants 
with excellent high-school results are accepted, at which — at least according to 
Mehely — he was the only one to protest, pointing out that due to the high number 
of Jewish pupils with excellent results this would mean a complete lack of 
attention to the interests of the Hungarian people. This is why he requested 
Klebelsberg to let high-school results only count as secondary criteria, but the 
Minister was not willing to accept this (promising nevertheless to give the heads 
of educational districts orders to draw examinations at the completion of high 
school under strict inspection.) A number of problems with regard to the 
application of admissions criteria were however not clarified at the meeting. 

Klebelsberg passed the Decree No. 53,000/1928, regulating the 
implementation of the Act on 12 July 1928, and had it delivered to the institutions 
concerned in "strict confidentiality" with the instruction that "in view of its 
temporary character the decrees should not be published." Furthermore he 
required that the institutions give a detailed report in each half of the academic 
year, detailing the experiences gathered in the course of its execution. 

The decree of implementation prescribed that — as previously — institutions 
annually propose the number of students that could be accepted, for the minister 
to establish the final admissions numbers in the form of a decree. With 
appropriate educational backgrounds and unquestionable morals, foreign students 
may enroll over and above the established admissions figures. Enrollment on the 
basis of acquired rights — as well as proof of allegiance to the nation and 
reliability of morals, of course — could only pertain to the faculty at which the 
given person had studied earlier. Studies begun, or completed in foreign colleges 
did not insure any rights to enrollment in Hungarian colleges within the scope of 
the Act. Concerning the admissions criteria, the decree of implementation 
repeated the formulations of the Act, qualifying those living in the seat of the 
university or in its neighborhood, as well as in its vicinity for enjoying preference, 
and ordered that applicants with results of excellent high-school final exam grades 
"preferably" be admitted. The decree of implementation did not provide 
substantive "instruction" for the application of the other criteria, but did however 
introduce the absolute and relative notion of filling the allocation in relation to 
rejected applicants: the decree required that rejected applicants be informed of 
whether their appeal "could not be granted on the basis of the absolute (that is, the 
total allocation of student intake), or relative (that is, the filled quota of 

36 ELTE L BX, minutes of the meeting of 1 June 1928; Magyarsag (31 May 1928), 2. 

Andor Laddnyi 

proportions of professions listed in the Act) exhaustion of the established 
allocation, or any other reason." 37 

As soon as they had begun, admissions for academic year 1928/29 gave 
cause for no little surprise: Klebelsberg had reduced the allocations that set the 
number of students to be admitted significantly from the previous academic year. 
(Thus the figures for the Budapest University of Sciences dropped at the Faculty 
of Law from 550 to 320, at the Faculty of Medicine from 300 to 180, and at the 
Faculty of Arts, from 450 to 210.) This elicited a high degree of tension with the 
number of applicants outnumbering the allocations by a wide margin, which 
prompted Klebelsberg to permit a raise in the admissions quotas (to 552 at the 
Faculty of Law, 240 at the Faculty of Medicine, and 410 at the Faculty of Arts, for 
example). The information provided by the "competent sources" with regard to 
Klebelsberg 's actions — the significant curb on, and then raise in enrolment 
numbers — was the following: 

"The Minister of Religion and Education, when issuing his decree in order 
to cut back the number of students that could be accepted at the faculties in the 
beginning of July, concomitantly announced to the members of the press who had 
gathered in the corridor of the Upper House that recently, not only the extreme 
right, but also left wing actors had begun to give voice to notions that with our 
educational policy we were propagating the intellectual proletariat [...] Since we 
had no success in refuting this opinion by means of arguments, facts, by way of 
demonstration had to be allowed to impress the political lesson upon all parties, of 
what an unmanageable situation is created if this statement is taken seriously, and 
the numerus clausus lowered drastically in an attempt at a realization of this 
precept. Inevitably, what any reasonable person could foresee then actually came 
to pass. Those parents, whose children were squeezed out, irrespective of their 
denominational background, took action in order that the quotas be raised, which 
is quite natural, for it would be rather difficult to convince a practical person that 
it is easier to succeed in life without knowledge than with. The Minister of 
Culture [...] has achieved his goal perfectly, the path indicated by the well 
sounding phrases has proved untraversable." Klebelsberg confirmed the semi- 
official statement: he had indeed said in the company of at least 20 journalists in 
the corridor of the Upper House, "the situation must be carried through ad 
absurdum, so I can prove its unsustainability. They have crowed on at me for so 
long about the glut of intellectual proletariat that I had to finally show them the 
impossibility of these demands." 

Klebelsberg was undoubtedly motivated to lower the numbers for 
admissions intake by the opinions — repeatedly voiced even in the course of the 
parliamentary debate — invoking the dangers of the formation and growth of an 
educated proletariat. Questioning this course of action — and raising the number of 
students that could be admitted — however, contradicted one of the declared aims 

37 MOL K 636 - 1933 -20 -58 -18947. 

38 P.N. (2 September 1928), 9-10; P.N. (4 September 1928), 5. 


Andor Laddnyi 

of the numerus clausus (and meant a tacit admission of the fact that the real and 
fundamental aim of the numerus clausus was to restrict the number of Jewish 

It should also be noted in this context that the reduction of the intake 
figures — primarily in order to prevent the admission of Jewish students in greater 
numbers — was also considered necessary by the faculties of medicine. It was 
initiated by the Faculty of Medicine in Szeged, which had addressed the matter in 
a closed and confidential meeting in autumn 1927. According to a letter by the 
dean, to the dean of the faculty in Budapest, there is no prospect of "150 
Hungarian students applying for the first year. Of course, this quota would be 
filled immediately, were it necessary to admit all the Jewish applicants, after all, 
the petition of 92 Jews has been refused just this year." The danger of this 
happening could be avoided in the event that the limit of admissible students were 
set at 70 or 80. Representatives of the faculties of medicine held meetings on two 
occasions to discuss the issue, and a passed a resolution at the Second 
Interuniversity conference in Debrecen in 1928, which advocated that low 
admissions limits be established, in agreement that the proposed quota of student 
intake for year 1 should come to 200 at the Budapest Faculty of Medicine and 60 
each at the three faculties situated around the country. 

Coming to the implementation of the Act in the course of admissions for 
academic year 1928/29, available data clearly shows that still, in spite of the 
amendment, the main concern was to restrain the admission of Jewish students. 
(For that matter, negotiation continued in the Ministry on the proportion of Jewish 
students for the intake.) The proportional figures for non-Jewish and Jewish 
students admitted can be found in Table no. 1. 

As demonstrated by the figures above, efforts to restrict the number of 
Jewish students admitted were manifested most effectively at the faculties of 
medicine and University of Technology, as well as the faculties of law. 

Information about how the criteria of selection indicated by the Act and 
the Decree of Implementation were applied is only available for the case of the 
Faculty of Medicine in Budapest. As far as academic progress was concerned: on 
the basis of the proposal submitted by the Admissions Committee, the Faculty 
admitted 66 of the 96 applicants with outstanding high-school final exam results, 
and rejected 30 (most likely Jews), and accepted 66 of the 114 applicants with 
good high-school final exam results, rejecting 48 of these, while admitting 115 of 
the 189 applicants with satisfactory results (or students who had retaken the 
matriculation exams after failing them)... 72 of the 250 applicants resident in 
Budapest were rejected, while 42 of the 122 rural applicants were admitted. Data 
for the other criteria are also noteworthy. War orphans and children of war 
veterans (altogether 16 applicants) were all admitted. Of applicants from families 
of public servants 82.3% were admitted, from families in the 24 forms of 

39 SOTE L O.K. minutes of the meetings of 15 November 1927 and 19 June 1928. 

40 MOL K 636 - 1928-23-69628. 


Andor Laddnyi 

agricultural labor 70% were admitted, only 47.6% of those applying from families 
of independent professionals were accepted however, and only 26.7% of 
applicants from merchant families. 

Table no. 1 

The proportion of Christian and Jewish students admitted in 1928 

University, faculty 



Proportion of applicants admitted % 

University of Sciences, 

Faculty of Law and Political 



Faculty of Medicine 



Faculty of Arts 



Faculty of Pharmacy 



University of Debrecen 

Faculty of Law 



Faculty of Medicine 



Faculty of Arts, Linguistics and 



University of Pecs 

Faculty of Law 



Faculty of Medicine 



Faculty of Arts, Linguistics and 



University of Szeged 

Faculty of Law 



Faculty of Medicine 



Faculty of Arts, Linguistics and 



Faculty of Mathematics and 
Natural Sciences 



Faculty of Pharmacy 



University of Technology 



Faculty of Economics 



SOTE L O.K. minutes of the meeting of 6 September 1928. - It should be noted that the 
category used for the statistics prepared at the time only allow for limited investigation of the 
social stratification of the populace — and university students among them. (Moreover, the 
Admisions Committee of the Budapest Faculty of Medicine drew a number of categories together, 
showing only nine types of profession in place of the 18 used in official statistics.) 


Andor Laddnyi 

Added to the previous proportions of intake from religious denominations, 
the above percentages of applicants admitted give convincing proof of the real 
aim behind the complex system of criteria applied to the selection process by the 
amendment. As Alajos Kovacs, the President of Hungarian Central Statistical 
Office put it a decade later: "the moderated version of the numerus clausus, 
brought to pass on the initiative of the late Minister of Culture, Count 
Klebelsberg, did not state expressly that each race be admitted to universities 
according to their proportion in society, but in line with the original concept of the 
Central Statistical Office it served practically the same purpose. For in fact the 
new numerus clausus law ensured admission primarily to the children of civil 
servants, invalids of the war, war widows, and the remaining places within the 
quota were to be distributed among the fields of work in proportion to the their 
numbers in the census." This, however, taking the social structure of Hungarian 
Jewry into account, would have resulted in a situation where "the proportion of 
Jewish students within the student body would in the end have approximately 
equaled its proportion to the proportion of Jews in society as a whole." 42 

Yet in the course of implementation of the law the admissions committees 
did not actually tinker with such minutiae (which were not supported at any rate, 
either with more recent data than those collected by the 1920 Census, or a 
definition of the significance of each profession), but examined the religion of the 
applicants in the first place, and secondly took account of their territorial 

Already in his decree of 9 August 1925, Klebelsberg found it desirable 
that — especially in order to raise enrollment numbers at universities outside 
Budapest — "where possible, universities accept students primarily from their own 
regions of Hungary in greatest proximity to the given university, by means of 
which the opportunity is provided for the youth of every region with intentions of 
continuing in higher education to do so at the university most easily reached by 
them." Exercising the regional principle — as earlier seen — was also a point 
included in Act XIV of 1928, and Klebelsberg gave the Rector of the Budapest 
University of Sciences instruction "in summary fashion" to the effect that the 
"admissions committees only accept applicants from Budapest or its surroundings, 
resident in Budapest or its vicinity." Citing issues both of principle and practical 
considerations, some faculties in the event protested against the "imposition of 


sectors . 

The rejection of 70 % of Jewish applicants — with numerous students with 
excellent results among them — along with and the survival of the old Act in spirit 
and practice understandably elicited great indignation. Democratic delegate Jozsef 
Pakots delivered a list of the names of 29 rejected students with excellent high- 
school results to Klebelsberg. He also gave a detailed account at the general 

Alajos Kovacs, A csonkamagyarorszagi zsidosdg a statisztika tiikreben [The Jewry of the 
remaining Hungary], (Budapest: 1938), 39. 

43 MOL K 636 - 1925-61160; ELTE L 849/1928-29. BX; SOTE L OX, minutes of the meeting of 
25 September 1928. 


Andor Laddnyi 

assembly of the municipal authorities of the capital on 19 September 1928, of the 
anomalies surrounding the implementation of the numerus clausus Act. The 
assembly adopted the proposed resolution which turns to the government with a 
petition in regards to the serious problems encountered in the course of the 
implementation of the Act, requesting that the admissions quotas be raised. On the 
orders of Klebelsberg, who was fighting to give evidence of an appearance of 
substantial alterations having been made to the Act, Zoltan Magyary sent a strictly 
confidential letter to Rector Wolkenberg on 2 October: 

"In view of the fact," he wrote, "that his Excellency, the Minister 
considers it inadvisable from in terms of both foreign and internal politics that the 
matter of the rejection of Jewish students with excellent high-school results be 
repeatedly brought to public attention, and that as a result renewed attacks be 
launched on the numerus clausus", he raised the number of admissible students 
once again in a decree he passed on 1 October, and in connection with this, by 
means of this letter he confidentially requested the rector to admit one excellent 
student to the Faculty of Law, 10 to the Faculty of Arts, 12 to the Faculty of 
Medicine, and one to the Faculty of Pharmacy. He addressed a similar request to 
the rector of the University of Technology, in regard to the acceptance of a few 

Rector Wolkenberg forwarded Magyary' s letter to the deans concerned, 
for further arrangements to be made. The Faculty of Arts precluded admitting any 
further applicants, and the Faculty of Medicine only authorized the admission of 
three further students. In view of the resistance shown by these two faculties, 
Klebelsberg gave orders on the authority of his supervisory role for the 
supplementary admission of five further applicants with excellent results to the 
Faculty of Medicine, and nine to the Faculty of Arts. (Among the latter, 
incidentally, was one of the outstanding representatives of the second great 
generation of Hungarian mathematicians of this century, Pal Turan...) 44 

The question also came up on 17 October in the session of Parliament. 
Pakots criticized the behavior of the two faculties in his interpellation, and wished 
for a more resolute stance on the part of the Minister, in order for him to "impose 
his will upon the disobedient professors". In his reply, Klebelsberg declared that 
the universities would execute his orders, and thus the affair would be "concluded 
to everyone's satisfaction". He also emphasized that "the affair around the 
numerus clausus was a political issue [...] And the political responsibility is born 
purely and exclusively by me." Fears were expressed at the meetings of the 
Budapest Faculty of Arts held on 17 October, that of the Faculty of Medicine on 
19 October and the University Council on 20 October with regard to 
Klebelsberg 's orders, for their broad interpretation of his supervisory authority 
and their curb on the rights of universities to their autonomy. 5 

44 ELTE L 2810/1928-29. R, 3110/1928-29. R.; SOTE L OX, minutes of the meeting of 9 October 
1928; Fovdrosi Kozlony (1928), 2311-2319; P.N. (20 September 1928), 3-4. 

45 ELTE L BX, minutes of the meeting of 17 October 1928; MOL K 636-1928-5-82592; SOTE L 
OX, minutes of the meeting of 19 October 1928; Az 1927. evi janudr ho 25-ere hirdetett 


Andor Laddnyi 

But at the same time student groups within the extreme right sphere of 
influence also took action against Klebelsberg's measures: by 18 October the 
usual "excesses" (checks of official identification, Jews being insulted, and 
forcibly expelled) experienced at universities had already begun in Budapest. At 
their general assembly they demanded the "reinstatement of the strict numerus 
clausus Act, which protected and insured the rights of the Hungarian race", 
protested against violations of the autonomy of universities and called for a 
boycott of the Jewish students "admitted over and above their proportion in the 
population", embarking upon a scandalous street demonstration after the general 
assembly, in front of the editorial offices of Az Est and the bookshop belonging to 
the daily, Nepszava. 

Klebelsberg summoned the rectors for a meeting that very evening to hand 
over his confidential decree. Thereby he gave the rectors instructions to uphold 
order upon their own authority, adding that in the event that these breaches of 
order continued after 23 October, "he would be forced to take measures for the 
involvement of the police". The atrocities did however continue beyond 22 and 23 
October. Klebelsberg gave the rectors orders in a new confidential letter to close 
the universities immediately if the disturbances continue, and in recognition of the 
seriousness of the situation he made the rectors personally responsible for 
enforcing the measure. The universities in Budapest were indeed, shortly to close. 
The atrocities spread to the universities of Debrecen on the 22nd, Szeged on the 
23rd, and Pecs on the 24th of October; the disturbances lead to the closure of the 
universities of Debrecen and Pecs. 46 

The matter of the atrocities committed in the universities and the street 
demonstrations drew heated debate in the parliamentary session of 23 October as 
well; on part of the opposition, Istvan Farkas, Jozsef Pakots and Lajos Szilagyi 
questioned the activities of the university student groups whipped up by extreme 
right-wing forces and raised the responsibility of the government (while the 
Christian Party delegate Gyula Petrovacz "defended" the university students, and 
shifted responsibility for the violence to the left-wing press). Klebelsberg once 
again emphasized the legitimacy of his actions in his reply, he considered a 
reform of the university student associations - regulating that only individuals 
within the scope of disciplinary authorities of the universities should be able to be 
active members - necessary, also objecting to the public positions taken by certain 

Orszaggyules Kepviselohazanak Napldja [House of parliament memorandum for 25 January 
1927], Vol. XV, 235^0. 

46 BME L MRT, minutes of the meetings of 20 and 23 October 1928; BML Erzsebet 
Tudomanyegyetem iratai [Archives of Erzsebet University] 655/1928-29. R; ELTE L 933/1928- 
29. B.K.; KLTE It E. T. 1928, minutes of the meetings of 2, 26, 30 October and 5 November; 
D.F.U. (23 October 1928), 1-2; D.F.U. (24 October 1928), 1-2; D.F.U. (25 October 1928), 1-3; 
D.F.U. (26 October 1928), 1-2; Dm. (24 October 1928), 3-5; Dm. (25 October 1928), 3; Dm. (27 
October 1928), 3; N.U. (20 October 1928), 1-2; N.U. (21 October 1928), 3^1; N.U. (23 October 
1928), 3-5; N.U. (24 October 1928), 3; ; N.U. (26 October 1928), 3; N.U. (28 October 1928), 1-2; 
Pecsi Naplo (26 October 1928), 1-2; Szegedi Naplo (24 October 1928), 3-4; Szegedi Naplo (25 
October 1928), 3; Szegedi Naplo (26 October 1928), 3. 


Andor Laddnyi 

professors. (Klebelsberg also declared the revision of the statutes of the 
associations of camaraderie inevitably necessary — citing the agreement of the 
Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior — at the meeting of rectors on 10 
November.) It is also worthy of mention that when on 30 October, Foreign 
Minister Walko sent cuttings of articles dealing with the Hungarian student 
demonstrations from the more important foreign newspapers, he added an 
emphatic request: "please take it upon yourself to add your weight for such 
movements to be avoided in the future, for they are disadvantageous for our 
efforts to clarify our situation abroad." Teaching only recommenced at the 
universities on 12 November (except at the Faculty of Medicine in Debrecen, 
where the leaders of the association "Csaba" could not guarantee that order would 
be upheld.) 47 

Implementation of the Act in the course of admissions for the academic 
year 1929/30 were in many respects characterized by the same traits described for 
the previous year. Thus the Ministry once again set the quotas for the intake rather 
low — albeit, by now the grounds were the beginnings of the worldwide economic 
depression — in some cases even lower than the original figures given for the 
previous year. (For example, at the Budapest University of Sciences the intake of 
first-year students was 300 at the Faculty of Law, 160 at the Faculty of Medicine, 
200 at the Faculty of Arts, and 200 each at the faculties of law in the countryside.) 
As the number of applicants — especially in the case of the institutions of higher 
education located in Budapest — was much higher than the number that could be 
admitted, an organized movement aiming for the raising of the enrollment quotas 
got under way. A general assembly was held on 1 September, whose resolution 
was delivered to Klebelsberg by a delegation, which was shortly followed by the 
raising of the admission quotas (in Budapest, they were raised to 450 at the 
Faculty of Law, to 200 at the Faculty of Medicine, to 300 at the Faculty of Arts, 
while in Debrecen the Faculty of Law was allowed to admit 250, and the Faculty 
of Law in Szeged was allowed an intake of 300, etc.) 

There was no change in the situation with regard to the real objectives and 
preferences of the implementation of the numerus clausus either. Albeit, no 
comprehensive data are available on this academic year, it can be established on 
the basis of the partial data that is available that a significant number of Jewish 
applicants — among them a number of applicants with excellent high-school 
results — were not admitted this year either. For example, 30 applicants with 
excellent results out of 58 (10 from Budapest and 20 from out-of-Budapest) were 
not admitted to the Budapest Faculty of Medicine (according to a letter by the 
chair of the admissions committee, Balazs Kenyeres, probably addressed to 

47 BML Erzsebet Tudomanyegyetem iratai [Archives of Erzsebet University] 899/1928-29. R; 
MOL. K 636 - 1928-23-84258; Az 1927. evi janudr ho 25-ere hirdetett Orszdggyiiles 
Kepviselohazanak Napldja [House of parliament memorandum for 25 January 1927], Vol. XV, 

48 MOL K 636 - 1929-410-5; Hivatalos Kozlony (1929), 245; P.N. (3 September 1929), 10; P.N. (5 
September 1929), 11. 


Andor Laddnyi 

Magyary, "another reason could be given for each rejection" of the twenty 
provincial applicants); 90.5 % of Jewish applicants to the Faculty of Medicine and 
55.5 % percent of the applicants to the Faculty of Arts in Debrecen were rejected 
(albeit, the allowed quota was not filled at the latter, even this year); while 87.8 % 
of the Jewish applicants to the Faculty of Medicine in Szeged were rejected (six 
among them with excellent high-school grades). The National Office of 
Hungarian Israelites put forward the list of the names of rejected students with 
excellent educational records — with reference to Klebelsberg's promise — in two 

• • 49 


The Ministry took a number of measures in order to mitigate the above 
problems. Klebelsberg raised the quota of students that could be accepted in a 
decree of 6 September 1929, and at the same time he called upon the Rector of the 
Budapest University of Sciences to "be so kind as to make admission possible for 
all those applicants who have all-round excellent results from their previous 
education." Apart from applicants from Budapest and its immediate vicinity, 
applicants from the country can only be taken into consideration if there is a 
possibility to do so within the allocated admissions figures. Klebelsberg gave the 
Rector of the University of Technology similar instructions in person. In his other 
decree of the same day, Klebelsberg took steps to insure that all those students 
resident in Budapest who were studying at universities located outside the capital 
and had been rejected in Budapest the previous year could continue their studies 
in Budapest. On the other hand, on 16 September, in another decree Klebelsberg 
stipulated that those applicants not from Budapest who had applied in the capital 
but were rejected, could be admitted to any university countrywide above the 
quota, and residents of Budapest with excellent high-school results, who could not 
be admitted within the specified quota, could be admitted to the Faculty of 
Economics. The reason for this last measure was quite clearly that on the basis of 
experiences from the previous year, he was doubtful about the enforcement of his 
6 September decree. (In this context it should be noted that the Rector's Council 
at the University of Technology had empowered Rector Szily to request the 
Minister to "make allowance for the instructions of 6 September regarding the 
admission of applicants with excellent high-school results not being strictly 
applied, as it would be against the intentions of the numerus clausus for all the 
Jewish petitioners to be given admission, there being among Jews an 
extraordinarily high percentage of those who were advanced academically 
early.) 50 

The number of admitted Jewish students increased somewhat through the 
above measures, which once again gave rise to atrocities at the Budapest 
University of Sciences, the University of Technology, and to some degree at the 

49 HBML A debreceni tudomanyegyetem iratai [Archives of the University of Debrecen], 
100/1929-30. R; MOL K 636 - 1929-410-5/126, K 636 -1929-410-5/253. 

50 BME L MRT, minutes of the meeting of 2 September 1929; MOL K 636 - 1929-410-5/118, K 
636 - 1929-410-5/1 19, K 636 -1929-410-5/137. 

Andor Laddnyi 

University of Debrecen in October 1929. 51 The disturbances also came up as an 
issue at the 25 October 1929 meeting of the Council of Ministers. 

The statement of the Foreign Minister concluded: "yes, they are harmful 
[...] the continuously repeated persecution of Jews and disturbances created by 
student groups affect the prestige of the country." The Finance Minister 
reaffirmed this fact by confirming that "in the course of our negotiations on loans 
the disturbances committed by the students at universities are constantly being 
made a point of." Bethlen brought to Klebelsberg's attention that a "serious 
resolution to the issue" was required, and declared that he "would not brook any 
further continuation of these terroristic phenomena". (According to the 
handwritten manuscript of the memo for the meeting of the Council of Ministers 
Bethlen called upon Gombos — who had returned to the bosom of the Unity Party 
in September 1929, and first became a Secretary of State for Defense, and the 
Minister of Defense from 10 October 1929 — to make his influence felt among the 
students in order to effectuate the matter.) Klebelsberg alluded to the 
overproduction of intellectuals, in light of which "the numerus clausus, if not for 
long, would still have to be kept in effect." He also reported that an agreement had 
been reached in regards to the admission of applicants with excellent prior 
education results, "the Faculty of Medicine however, is not willing to accept it", 
he nevertheless remains committed to his stance on the matter of their admission. 
Finally he promised to take the actions required. 

The problems that came up in the course of admissions for academic year 
1930/31 were similar to those that had blighted those of 1928/29 and 1929/30. A 
significant proportion of Jewish applicants still did not gain admission (according 
to data published by Egyenloseg, only 106 of the over 900 Jewish students 
finishing high-school in Budapest in 1930 were admitted to the universities). 
Klebelsberg's attention this year was also directed at the acceptance of students 
with excellent prior results and at enforcing the regional principles. Overall, 
nevertheless, less tension was experienced around the admissions process this 
year than in the previous ones, and disturbances were also only seen at the 
University of Szeged, but even this was not directly connected to admissions. (As 
a matter of fact, the demonstrations in Szeged were directed in part against Albert 
Szent-Gyorgyi, who had said: "The gentlemen would do better study, rather than 

51 BME L MRT 1929, minutes of the meeting of 24 October, and addendum 226/1931. R; ELTE L 
802/1929-30. R.; HBML A debreceni tudomanyegyetem iratai [Archives of the University of 
Debrecen], 380/1929-30. R. 

52 MOL K 27 -MT, minutes of the meeting of 25 October 1929. Agenda Item No. 31. 

53 MOLK 636 - 1930-410-5/110, K 636 -1930-410-5/113, K 636 -1930-410-5/160; Dm. (11 
November 1929), 1; Dm. (12 November 1929), 1-2; Dm. (14 November 1929), 3; Dm. (15 
November 1929), 3; Egyenloseg (19 September 1930), 33. 


Andor Laddnyi 

Taking a measure of the numerus clausus 

In an overview of the circumstances in which Act XIV of 1928 came into 
being and came to be implemented, the balance of what followed the amendment 
must be drawn. 

The new law — as outlined in the foregoing — after § 3 of the original Act 
was dropped on grounds of foreign and internal policy considerations, still aimed 
to restrict the admission of Jewish students to institutions of higher education. The 
proportion of first-year Jewish students undoubtedly grew over the years from 
1928 to 1932 (with their proportion on the national average rising from 9.4 % in 
1928/29, and once again 9.4 % in 1929/30, to 9.5 % in 1930/31, then 14.1 % in 
1931/32, to fall in 1931/33 to 11.6 %) primarily as a result of the acceptance of 
most of those with excellent educational results from high-school in spite of 
difficulties. Yet from 1933 onwards their proportion gradually decreased as an 
effect of political changes (from 8.4 % in 1933/34 to 5.5 % in 1934/35, then 
falling below 5 % in 1937/38). The decrease was even sharper in terms of 
absolute numbers; falling from 672 in 1931/32 to 228 in 1934/35, and then 188 in 
1937/38, a decrease of 72 % over a period of six years. (In a comparison of these 
figures with the number of Jewish students completing their high-school 
education: 1,666 finished in 1931, 1,185 in 1934, 1,278 in 1937; so the proportion 
of Jewish students admitted to universities in relation to those completing high 
school decreased from 40.3 % to 14.7 %.) 54 

It should be mentioned that the data would change somewhat if only those 
institutions are taken into account, which fell within the scope of the numerus 
clausus law, and those taking the one-year public accounting course of the 
faculties of law and law academies (which were also not affected by the law), and 
of course the faculties of divinity at the universities. These figures can only be 
gleaned fully for the second semester of academic year 1929/30 on the basis of the 
statistical source databanks: the proportion of first-year Jewish students in 
institutions within the scope of the Act, not counting the faculties of divinity and 
the public accounting courses came to 12.4 %. 55 For the other academic years the 
data for the public accounting courses cannot be treated separately within the 
faculties of law and law academies; but since the number of participants in these 
courses were relatively small, and the proportion of Jewish students at those 
institutions of higher learning that were not drawn under the numerus clausus Act 
was rather low, the proportion of first- year Jewish students at the universities of 
science and the universities of technology and the law academies can be taken to 
be somewhat higher than the published countrywide data. 

54 See years 1929-1938 of the Magyar Statisztikai Evkonyv [Hungarian Statistics Annual]. It 
should also be noted that the data dealing with years 1928/29-1930/31 deal with the first semester, 
while those following 1932/33 deal with the second semester. 

55 Dezso Laky, A magyar egyetemi hallgatok statisztikdja 1930 [Statistics for Hungarian university 
students in 1930], (Budapest: 1931), 10-15. 

Andor Laddnyi 

Where the application of the regional principle — repeatedly urged by 
Klebelsberg — is concerned: the number of students admitted to Hungarian 
universities outside of Budapest increased by 20 % in the early 30s, but then 
gradually decreased, until 1937/38 by more than 30 %, outpacing the countrywide 
average. The success, both limited and temporary, of the imposition of 
"regionalization" can also be explained by a number of circumstances. One of 
these was that the Ministry had not defined the regions "naturally belonging" to 
the universities, except in the case of the Budapest University of Sciences, for 
which it specified in 1928 that its immediate vicinity, (Kispest, Ujpest, etc.) count 
as part of Budapest, but not Vac or Kecskemet, while in 1929 it considered those 
cities and towns to be part of the Budapest region that could be reached from 
Budapest by tram, or local trains. It should also be taken into consideration, 
furthermore, that a number of departments in the humanities and natural sciences 
could only be found in Budapest, and that many young people from the country 
had the option available of staying with relatives in Budapest during their studies, 
and that Budapest in general held greater attraction. There is no doubt, on the 
other hand, that most of the ministers for religion and education following 
Klebelsberg in his position — especially Homan — did not give priority to the 
development of provincial universities and increasing their student numbers. 5 

The requirement of "national allegiance" and "moral reliability" in the Act 
of 1920 was directed manifestly at obstructing the university admission and 
continued studies of students who had participated in the revolutions of 1918— 
1919. Upholding this requirement — nearly a decade after the revolutions — did not 
have any practical significance. (National allegiance and moral reliability was to 
be proved, incidentally, by a certificate of good conduct to be provided by the 
principal of the school concerned according to the decree of implementation.) The 
greatest problem encountered in the course of admissions — as earlier explained in 
the discussion of the parliamentary debate on the draft law and in connection with 
its implementation — was the application of the principle of admitting students for 
the various branches of professions in proportion to their prevalence and 
significance; this was emphasized by many of the institutions and faculties in their 
reports on the admissions. 

According to the report submitted by the Budapest Faculty of Arts on 12 
December 1928, whilst the numbers pertaining to each branch of profession can 
be established on the basis of statistical data, "the way the significance of each 
professional branch should be considered to bear upon the distribution in 
percentage is rather problematic", and for this reason the "absolute and relative 
notion of filling the allocation" mentioned in § 14 of the Decree of 
implementation "becomes an illusory concept". 

The majority of institutions and faculties — as noted — did not attempt to 
resolve this issue, but nor was there a need to do so, for this complex system of 

56 ELTE L 849/1928-29. B.K., 589/1929-30. R.; KLTE It E.T., minutes of the meeting on 7 
December 1928; for details on first-year student numbers, see the appropriate volumes of the 
Magyar Statisztikai Evkonyv [Hungarian Statistics Annual]. 


Andor Laddnyi 

expectations in fact only served to cloak the fundamental objective of the numerus 
clausus Act. In his monograph on Klebelsberg, Huszti noted in this regard: "the 
exact implementation of the Act would require such intricate statistical 
calculation, and give way, perhaps deliberately, to such murky, impenetrable and 
discretional application that hardly anything could be brought out of it in practice. 
The praxis remained largely as it had been before the new law." 57 

However, the ministerial justification for the draft law of 15 November 
1940 on the regulation of student admissions to universities and colleges may be 
cited just as well. The general justification presented the main objectives of Act 
XXV of 1920 highlighting that the applicable dispensation of the Act "was the 
first legislative measure worldwide instituted to defend against the dangerous 
expansion of Jewry." He outlined the circumstances surrounding the amendment 
of the Act, and went on to emphasize that in its implementation "my predecessors 
in this office essentially upheld the restriction on the university and college 
admission of Jews through measures taken on a case-by-case basis until the matter 
came to be regulated in a more comprehensive manner by legislation in Act IV of 
1939." (Namely, Act IV of 1939, on the restriction of Jewish encroachment in 
public life and the economy reinstated once more the 6 % limit on the university 
admission of Jewish students.) 

The actual nature of Act XIV of 1928 was seen in an essentially proper 
light by the historical works that deal with the subject (such as the literature by 
Zsuzsa L. Nagy, Nathaniel Katzburg, Ignac Romsics, Laszlo Gonda etc.), 
establishing the fact that the consideration of religion continued to play a 
determining role in the process of admissions. 

In taking stock of Act XIV of 1928, attention must also be directed at the 
professional-pedagogic aspect of the issue, namely the question of how the 
implementation of the numerus clausus influenced the composition of those 
admitted in terms of quality, and the standard of the education they received. In 
this regard, however, certain fundamental circumstances must be emphasized. 
One of these circumstances is that taking the whole of the Horthy period into 

57 ELTE L 1089A928-29. B.K; Huszti, Grof Klebelsberg Kuno eletmiive, 197; Az 1939. evi Junius 
ho 10-ere hirdetett Orszdggyules Nyomtatvdnyai [Printed documents of the session of Parliament 
convened for 10 June 1939] Parliament - TE.K.ts Vol. V, 231-233; Magyar Torvenytar 1939. evi 
torvenycikkek [Hungarian body of law, Acts of 1939], (Budapest: 1940), 134. A mention should be 
made in this contE.K.t of the fact that according to the Ministry regulations of 1935, the number of 
Christen converts had to be shown separately. 

L. Nagy, Bethlen liberdlis ellenzeke, 192; Katzburg, Hungary and the Jews, 78; Romsics, 
Bethlen Istvdn. Politikai eletrajz, 202; Gonda, A zsidosdg Magyarorszdgon 1526—1945, 203. In 
contradiction to the above, a tE.K.tbook supplement published in three editions based on steps 
taken by the Ministry of Culture and Education states: "The numerus clauses, introduced in 1920, 
which determined admissions to universities based on the country- wide proportion of given ethnic 
groups and was, as such, discriminative, was repealed by Bethlen in 1926." Peter Rubovszky, 
Tortenelem IV. Vdzlatok a XX. szdzad torteneterol Vol. 1, for fourth grade students of secondary 
school. Third edition. (Budapest: 1994), 51. But Miklos Szabo, a great expert on the period, also 
used the term repeal, rather than amendment in regards to the numerus clausus in journalistic 
pieces. Miklos Szabo, "A Klebelsberg-legenda" [The Klebelsberg legend], Kritika (1993): 12, 30. 

Andor Laddnyi 

consideration, the scale of secondary school education, the number of students 
completing it successfully — grounded in the country's general social, economic 
and cultural conditions, an in view of the effective chances of children from 
laborer and poor peasant backgrounds continuing their studies — did not ensure an 
adequate recruitment base for higher education in Hungary. This factor only 
became more exacerbated in the '30s, as a demographic turn — the low number of 
births during the War — ensured that the number of those completing secondary 
school in the first half of the '30s decreased gradually by 20 %, until 1935/36. The 
deficiencies of the educational system in a number of fields of education proved 
to be the other important circumstance. Finally, it is also not a negligible factor 
that a not so insignificant segment of the admitted students was not able to apply 
themselves to their studies with the appropriate diligence due to financial 
difficulties — that forced them to take up any jobs the situation permitted, on the 
side. The application of the numerus clausus however, undoubtedly exacerbated 
the problems related to these circumstances. 

As far as the prior education and preparation of students, and their 
secondary school results are concerned, data shows that the number of those with 
excellent results from high school grew incrementally after the amendment, rising 
above 20 %. At the same time, the proportion of satisfactory results was rather 
high until the middle of the '30s, at a national average of 40 %. Wide margins of 
difference appeared in the quality of prior preparation students showed at various 
universities and faculties: the proportion of students with satisfactory grades from 
high school was relatively low at the faculties of arts, the faculties of economics, 
and from the '30s onwards, at the University of Technology, while they were 
rather high, above 50 % at the faculties of law, and over 60 % at the law 
academies and the Faculty of Pharmacy. There were rather pervasive differences 
on this score between the universities in Budapest and provincial universities as 
well. 59 

The high rate of students with only satisfactory high-school degrees made 
for one of the gravest problems of Hungarian higher education. Klebelsberg 
himself plainly perceived the problems related to the quality of prior training 
students received: "overproduction is caused by the weak majority", he wrote in 
an article that was published on 26 August 1925, while he pointed out in his 
article of 19 June 1927, entitled "Intellectual proletariat" that "a good two thirds 
of those who receive a diploma are in possession of a minimal degree of 
knowledge." 60 

59 See the appropriate volumes of the Magyar Statisztikai Evkonyv [Hungarian Statistics Annual], 
as well as volumes 87, 88, 89, 90 and 92 of the new series of the Magyar Statisztikai Kozlemenyek 
[Hungarian statistical bulletin]. 

Grof Klebelsberg Kuno beszedei, cikkei, torvenyjavaslatai 1916-1926 (Budapest: 1927), 649; 
Count Kuno Klebelsberg, Neonacionalizmus [Neo-nationalism], (Budapest: 1928), 45. 


Andor Laddnyi 

Table no. 2 

The Proportion of passes on Examinations and Comprehensives in % 

Exam, or 






Faculty of Law - 
Foundational Exam I 






Faculty of Law - 
Foundational Exam II 






Faculty of Law - 
Foundational Exam III 






Political Science 
Comprehensive Exam 






Comprehensive Exam 






Comprehensive Exam in 
Medicine I 






Comprehensive Exam in 
Medicine II 






Comprehensive Exam in 
Medicine III 






Comprehensive Exam in 
Medicine IV 






Secondary School 
Teacher's Foundational 






Secondary School 
Teacher's Board Exam 






Secondary School 
Teacher's Exam in 






The low average grade achieved by a considerable segment of the student 
body was also expressed in the results of the exams and comprehensives. Table 
no. 2 shows that the number of successfully taken exams and comprehensives rose 
to a certain degree at the beginning of the '30s, but then gradually decreased. In 
1937/38, over 30 % of those taking the Foundational Exam I in Law, 43 % of 
those taking the Comprehensive Exam in Medicine I, and nearly half of those 
taking the Secondary School Teacher's Foundational Exam failed. l 

The highly interesting debate about questions posed by the situation 
evolved at the meeting of the Budapest Faculty of Medicine on 16 February 1932 
during the discussion of a proposal to lower enrollment numbers. Balazs Kenyeres 
proposed a significant decrease in the number of students admitted — to 150 in 

See the appropriate volumes of the Magyar Statisztikai Evkdnyv [Hungarian Statistics Annual]. 


Andor Laddnyi 

Budapest, and 40 each at the three provincial schools of medicine — and that 
students who had begun their training abroad be admitted only if they begin their 
studies from the first year, and count as part of the allocated number. Pointing out 
that at least 30 % of the students enrolled are "wholly unsuitable for the 
profession", Emil Grosz suggested that a strict selection on the basis of ability and 
diligence be instituted. Sandor Koranyi concurred, saying that "the number of 
those who have only the extremely low demands of the comprehensive exams to 
thank for their gaining a diploma after, in most cases, trying a number of times 
and then barely scraping by with minimal knowledge can be placed at 
approximately 30 %." Sandor Koranyi also spoke at length on the consequences 
of the selection process of the numerus clausus in his speech to the Upper House 
of Parliament on 24 June 1933. 62 

Due to the implementation of the numerus clausus, a relatively large 
number of young Jews studied in foreign institutions of higher education even 
after 1928. The number of Hungarian students studying in universities and 
colleges abroad moved around 1,800 at the end of the '20s and beginning of the 
'30s, but then — due to political, economic and demographic reasons — this figure 
gradually dropped to below 1,000 as early as 1935/36. Their main body was 
obviously composed of Jews who had not been accepted to universities in 
Hungary (their exact number cannot be established on the basis of official 
statistical data, which does not contain information on denominational affiliation). 
The proportion is estimated at 80 % by Alajos Kovacs, but according to more 
recent research by Viktor Karady, this figure was somewhat higher. The statistical 
data available also does not permit conclusions as to the number of students who 
only undertook a few years of higher-level education abroad, and how many 
completed (that is, were allowed to complete) their education at Hungarian 
universities, but the fact that only 164 diplomas completed by Jewish students 
abroad were nostrified between 1920/21 and 1934/35 allows it to be surmised that 
a considerable number of them did not go on to practice their professions in 
Hungary. In the words of Viktor Karady: "In terms of replenishing the community 
of the Hungarian intelligentsia, the results of the numerus clausus [...] proved to 
be a great loss [...] It robbed the country of a not insignificant segment of a 
potential intellectual reinforcement for the Hungarian government." 

62 SOTE L OJC, minutes of the meeting on 16 February 1932 and its annE.K.; Az 1931. evi Julius 
ho 18-dra hirdetett Orszdggyiilis Felsohdzdnak Napldja [Memorandum of the Upper House of 
Parliament session of 18 July 1931], Vol. II, 349. The deficiencies of the preparedness of a 
significant section of university students had been E.K.plored through a questionnaire -based 
survey of the Magyar Humanisztikus Gimnazium Hiveinek Egyesulete [Association of Believers 
in the Hungarian humanistic secondary school system] already in 1927. Jozsef Balogh, 
"Kozepiskolai kerdesek - az egyetem szemszogebol" [Secondary school issues — From the 
perspective of the university], Magyar Szemle, Vol. I, 253-263.) 

63 Alajos Kovacs, "Magyarorszagi zsido hallgatok a hazai es kiilfoldi foiskolakon" [Hungarian 
Jewish students at universities in Hungary and abroad], Magyar Statisztikai Szemle [Hungarian 
review of statistics] (1938), 897-902; Viktor Karady, "Egyetemi antiszemitizmus es ervenyesulesi 
kenyszerpalyak. Magyar-zsido diakok a nyugat-europai foiskolakon a numerus clausus alatt" 


Andor Laddnyi 

In spite of the limited measure of short-lived changes brought about by the 
amendment, the endurance of the fundamental objective of the numerus clausus 
had serious socio-political consequences: it continued to poison political 
perceptions, strengthening anti-Semitism, and reshaping the political image of 
significant intellectual strata. The main motive of anti-Semitism among university 
students and the educated youth graduating from universities in the '20s and '30s 
was signified by their existential problems. A detailed examination of the question 
of overproduction of intellectuals would lead beyond the frames of this study. 64 
But undoubtedly the employment of young graduates with fresh diplomas came 
up against mounting challenges already by the second half of the '20s, in 
consequence of the level of economic development and social structure in 
Hungary, as well as the disproportions of the country's infrastructure. A census of 
workers in intellectual professions in 1928 showed 1,848 unemployed individuals 
with higher level education (which only came to 3.5 % of wage earners with 
qualifications from higher education at the time), but the same census also 
specified that another 5,252 persons with degrees in higher education were not 
employed in "what could actually be called intellectual labor". As of the late '20s, 
a whole series of studies and articles dealt with the crisis of the intelligentsia, and 
the increasingly hopeless situation of young graduates especially; with the 
solution normally seen as the elimination of "the overproduction of intellectuals". 
It is common knowledge that the unemployment of intellectuals grew in leaps and 
bounds as a result of the economic depression. As the number of Jewish graduates 
decreased significantly in consequence of the numerus clausus, this spate of 
unemployment affected — as Viktor Karady pointed out — the non-Jewish 
intelligentsia finishing their university education, amplifying their need to 
eliminate the "Jewish competition", for a "change of guard". At the same time, the 
racist traits of anti-Semitism became palpably stronger. The circumstance that 
violent actions and atrocities at the universities were all but a constant 
phenomenon attendant upon the implementation of the numerus clausus must also 
not be forgotten. 

The socio-political effects of the numerus clausus also caused changes in 
the way the situation of Hungarian Jewry evolved. The numerus clausus and 
manifestation of anti-Semitism halted the assimilation of Hungarian Jewry, which 
had been greatly advanced in the period of the Dual Monarchy, engendering their 
isolation in significant part, as well as tendencies of nationalist exclusivism and 
de-assimilation. The numerus clausus altered the social mobility of Hungarian 
Jewry essentially. A considerable — though decreasing from the mid- '30s — 
segment of young Jews aiming for careers as educated professionals continued 
their education abroad, as discussed earlier, and after completion of their degrees, 

[University based anti-Semitism and force career trajectories. Hungarian Jewish students at 
Western European universities during the numerus clausus], Leveltdri Szemle (1992): 3, 21^-0. 
64 On This question see Tibor Hajdii's essay "Az ertelmisegi 'tultermeles' es tarsadalmi hatasai" 
[The overproduction of intellectuals and its social impact], in A ket vildghaboru kozotti 
Magyarorszdgrol [About Hungary between the two World Wars], (Budapest: 1984), 47-98. 


Andor Laddnyi 

a majority found jobs suitable to their abilities in Western Europe and the United 
States of America. The best qualified applicants from middle-class and educated 
families (or those suitably placed to pull strings) managed to gain entrance to 
Hungarian universities, while in comparison to the earlier period — as 
demonstrated by Alajos Kovacs already in 1926 — the majority of those from 
merchant or artisan families were forced out. 65 

To conclude, it can be established that the numerus clausus increased the 
divisiveness, and the antinomies of Hungarian society, it impacted detrimentally 
upon the standards of the composition of the Hungarian intellectual world, and 
was in no small part a political and intellectual preparation for the Jewish laws, 
and the national tragedy of 1944. 

65 Alajos Kovacs, Ertelmisegiink nemzeti jellegenek biztositdsa [Ensuring the national character of 
our intellectuals], (Budapest: 1926), 12-13; Viktor Karady, "A numerus clausus es a zsido 
ertelmiseg" [The numerus clauses and the Jewish intelligentsia], the manuscript of a lecture given 
at the Vazsonyi Conference held on 25 March 1994, let me my gratitude to the author 
for making it available. 
66 1 express my special thanks to Balinth Bethlenfalvy for his stylistical work on my paper 


Victor Karady 

Victor Karady 

The restructuring of the academic market place in 

In a former study I attempted the evaluation of the direct impact of the 
numerus clausus law introduced in Hungarian universities and Law academies 
since the Autumn term of the 1920/21 academic year on the enrollment or, rather, 
the admission of Jews in various institutions of higher education. This overall 
study concerning every university, academy and college of post-secondary 
education outside theologies had to do already with the transformations of the 
academic market place as far as it confronted in a strictly comparative manner the 
statistically measured presence of Jews in student bodies before and after 1920. 
The forthcoming essay will implicitly refer to the results obtained, only to focus 
particularly on developments and changes implemented among students of 
university faculties and academies of nation wide recruitment (mostly but not 
exclusively established in Budapest) to analyse the internal shifts of the 
composition of those clusters - both Jews and non Jews - engaged in higher 
education and effected by the consequences of the first anti -Jewish law as well as 
probably also the first one introducing arbitrary limitations (independent from the 
specific dynamics of the educational market) to enrollments in modern European 
history. (The last remark holds true for countries where Jews had enjoyed already 
the benefit of formal civic equality for several decades: this did not apply, as we 
know, to Russia and Romania before the end of World War I.) 

I am going to dwell here exclusively on the student side of the academic 
market while neglecting the staff side. This is because Jews had only 
exceptionally received appointment already in the pre-1919 'liberal' Dual 
Monarchy in the teaching body of higher education. A meticulously documented 
study of university professors in the inter-war years has found only 8 (1,4 % of the 
total) of Jews by religion and altogether 29 (5,1 % of the total) persons of Jewish 
background out of 568 academics, none of the former having been appointed after 


1919 and all being born before 1890. In my study of the whole teaching staff of 

1 The study has been achieved in the framework of the international cooperative project on 'Elite 
Formation in Multi-Cultural East Central European Societies' funded by the European Research 
Council in Bruxelles. 

"A numerus clausus es az egyetemi piac. Tarsadalomtorteneti essze, /The numerus clausus and 
the academic market place, an essay in social history/, " in Jogfosztds - 90 eve. Tanulmdnyok a 
numerus claususrol, /Disenfranchisement - 90 years ago. Studies on the numerus clausus/, Szerk. 
(ed.) Molnar Judit, Budapest, Nonprofit Tarsadalomkutato Egyesulet, 201 1, pp. 181-195. 
3 See Kovacs I. Gabor, Kende Gabor, Egyetemi tanarok rekrutacioja a ket vilaghaborii kozotti 
Magyarorszagon, /The recruitment of university professors in Hungary in the inter-war years/, in 
Kover Gyorgy (ed.), Zsombekok, kozeposztdly es iskoldztatds Magyarorszagon a 19. szdzad 
elejetol a 20. szdzad kozepeig. Tarsadalomtorteneti tanulmdnyok, /Rush-bed, middle class and 

Victor Karady 

the two Arts and Sciences faculties of the country during the Dualist period (in 
Budapest and Kolozsvar/Cluj) altogether 8,5 % were identified as Jewish (7 % in 
Budapest and 15 % in Kolozsvar). 4 Such, though somewhat higher proportions of 
Jews in one group of faculties suggest that Jews could indeed reach not 
infrequently teaching positions of lower rank in the provinces during the liberal 
reign, but hardly a prestigious status of full professorship in the capital city, the 
main academic centre. Obviously enough, a drastic limitation was set to academic 
careers of Jews in a period when - especially at the turn of the century - around 
one fourth of the rank and file secondary school or/and university graduates in the 
country (and often much higher proportions in the free intellectual professions) 
were Jewish or of Jewish background. In 1909/10 for example Jews by religion 
represented in Budapest 35 % of students at the classical University and 36 % at 
the Polytechnics as well as 15 % at the University of Kolozsvar. 5 In 1885 already 
Jews made up one fifth (19,9 %) of secondary school pupils and among 
secondary school graduates (erettsegizok) 22,8 % were Jewish in 1901-1905 7 and 
still 21,1 % in 1908/9-1912/13 (which hides in reality an age specific growth of 
the Jewish share, given the closing of the demographic scissor between Jewish 
and other birthrates since the 1890s 9 ). The disproportion between the minimal 
presence of Jews in the staff and their remarkable over-representation among 
students may be an initial statement about a most early form of anti-Jewish 
discrimination in the academic market place, to introduce this study of the 
consequences of the numerus clausus on academe. But before doing that, one has 
to look at the more general trends in the transformation of this market, produced 
by the intervention of the Christian Course legislators. 

Cultural superiority or regression ? 

The numerus clausus was initially meant to be a general measure to 
regulate the enlarged reproduction of the educated middle class t the expense of 
women and Jews after the multiple perturbations generated by the war : 
disappearance of large male clusters of the youngest adult generations as war 
casualties, the mounting tide of the presence of women in institutions of higher 

schooling in Hungary since the early 19th century till the middle of the 20th century, studies in 
social history/, Budapest, Szazadveg Kiado, 2006, 417-506, particularly 426-427. 

4 See „A bolcseszkarok oktatoi es az egyetemi piac szerkezete a dualista korban (1867-1918)", 
/The recruitment of the Arts and Science faculties under the Dual Monarchy/, Educatio, 16/3, (Osz 
/Fall/), 393-417, particularly 414. 

5 Cf. Magyar statisztikai evkonyv, /Hungarian statistical yearbook/ 1910, 387. 

Cf. A vallas- es kozoktatdsi miniszter jelentese a kormdnynak, 1894/5, /Report of the minister of 
cults and public instruction to the government/ 1894/5, 343. 

7 Ibid. 1912,407. 

8 Data calculated from the precedent source for the years concerned. 

9 Between 1881-85 and 1891-95 the difference between the Jewish (36,6 % and 35,7 per 
thousand) and the general (44,6 and 41,7 per thousand) birth rates diminished significantly. 
(Hungarian statistical yearbook, 1895, 56.) 


Victor Karady 

education, the return from the trenches of several generations of potential students 
overcrowding temporarily the benches of some places of advanced learning, 
immigration of masses of middle class refugees in the rump state after the 
dismemberment of the historic kingdom. Thus the conception of the numerus 
clausus law derived from three rather clearly discernable and interconnected 
motivations, to which antisemitism was added as a fourth and may be the most 
decisive one - at least for those who voted for the law or were directly concerned. 

First and foremost - or most directly - it aimed at the diminution of the 
'overcrowding' of universities after 1919, especially that of Budapest. Provincial 
universities remained indeed quite small, student numbers in Kolozsvar/Cluj 
reaching hardly more than one fourth of those in the capital city and the two new 
universities in Debrecen and Pozsony, founded in 1912 but opening their doors in 
1914 only, started to operate without medical faculties or most of the Science 
departments. They had a hard time to fill their benches in the war years and during 
their post-war predicament (entailing the transfer of the Hungarian University of 
Kolozsvar to Szeged and the University of Pozsony to Budapest first and later to 
Pecs). In 1914/5 Pozsony gathered merely 184 students in its Faculties of 
Philosophy and Law. Overcrowding in Budapest arose from the postwar juncture 
due to a multiplicity of causes besides the flowing back of discharged servicemen 
and the arrival of young intellectuals and students fleeing the lost territories. 
Another factor of overcrowding was the growth of intellectual unemployment due 
to the economic depression of the first post-war years as well as the conjunctional 
congestion of the intellectual markets of the rump state. This could, paradoxically 
enough - as a transitional existential choice -, send many secondary school 
graduates to universities instead of the occupational markets. 

Second, the policy to limit overcrowding was directly linked to the fight 
against the further expansion of the 'intellectual proletariat', a crucial socio- 
political issue in the postwar years, given the large number of repatriates 
belonging to the educated middle classes (especially civil servants) and the fact, 
evoked above, that the rump state hosted already the majority of civil servants, 
professionals and intellectuals of the dismembered monarchy, earlier in charge of 
a sizable empire and henceforth deprived in part of their original functions. The 
growth of this new 'proletariat' appeared to continue dangerously enough, given 
the inflation of academic enrollments since already the Spring term of 1917/18. 

Thirdly, in this context, the restriction of the female presence among 
would-be intellectuals surfaced as a simple solution both on the strength of the 
indeed visible development during the war years in relative as well as absolute 
numbers of the female constituency liable to pursue higher studies and take 
positions in the intellectual professions and in compliance with the heavily 

10 From 1913/14 to 1917/8 the number of girls graduating from secondary schools jumped from 
249 to 645 and their proportions among all the graduates increased from 4,3 % to 10 % (and up to 
14,5 % in 1918/19, a school year of serious perturbations). Data from Hungarian statistical 

Victor Karady 

traditionalist conception of womanhood and women's social roles carried by the 
conservative ideology of the 'Christian Course'. 

Fourth and perhaps foremost came antisemitism as a central target of the 
numerus clausus. This antisemitic drive had of course its own political dynamics. 
It was supported equally by a mixture of ideological arguments - like 
scapegoating of Jews for the defeat in the war and the outburst of the revolutions 11 
- and clear economic calculations objectified in the idea of the 'change of the 
guard' : to pass over to (or to expropriate for) Gentile practitioners part of the 
market shares of Jews in the main intellectual professions. Nevertheless, it was 
also a corollary of the three preceding motivations, since the share of Jews in the 
student body and in the intellectual professions had reached historical heights 
before and during the war years 12 , even among women 13 . 

One has to add that these apparently convergent objectives went straight 
against a major target of the Christian Course - to provide for the 'cultural 
superiority' of the rump state compared to their new neighbors. As regularly 
formulated by political protagonists of the regime, among them Kuno 
Klebelsberg, in charge of the ministry of education (1922-1931), the 'superiority' 
had to be expressed by both the internationally recognized quality of Hungarian 
scholarly accomplishments and the elevation of the level of education of the 
population, the production of "masses of educated heads". Such reform ideals of 
conservative ideologues were actually implemented by relatively large scale 
educational investments. They comprised the extension of the primary and 
secondary school 1 networks, the equipment of new university premises both in 
the capital and in the provinces, as well as the foundation or the modernization of 
new institutions (economic faculty, academy of sports, college of therapeutical 

1 ' See to this problem - among other publications - the recent book by Attila Pok, The Politics of 
Hatred in the Middle of Europe, Scapegoating in Twentieth Century Hungary : History and 
Historiography, Szombathely, Savaria Unversity Press, 2009. 

12 In 1917/8 Jews made up 24,9 % of secondary school graduates and as much as 30,5 % in 
1918/9. This can be related largely to conjunctural geo-political reasons, since most of the Jewish 
clientele of secular advanced learning was located in the Western and central regions of the 
country, while the rest was in the months of graduation mostly occupied by foreign military. Data 
from Hungarian statistical yearbooks. 

13 Girls constituted 8,2 % of Jewish secondary school graduates in 1913/14, a proportion which 
increased to 15,3 % in 1917/8, 20,1 % in 1918/9 and as much as 25,1 % in 1919/20. Among 
Christians in the last year girls made up only 14 % of the graduate constituency. Data from 
Hungarian statistical yearbooks. 

See Janos Gyurgyak, Ezze lett magyar hazdtok. A magyar nemzeteszme es nacionalizmus 
tortenete, /This is what your Hungarian homeland has become. History of the Hungarian idea of 
nation and nationalism/, Budapest, Osiris, 2007, 312-315. 

15 There were already 8103 primary schools in 1938/9 in the rump state as against 5906 in 1919/20 
(an increase of 37 %). Cf Hungarian statistical yearbook 1939, 177 and ibid. 1919-1922, 155. 

16 There were already 263 secondary schools granting the matura in 1938/9 as against 137 only in 
1919/20 (an increase equal to almost the doubling of the network), even if this was not exclusively 
due to state funding proper. On the contrary, the share of the state sector in the secondary school 
market diminished from 40,9 % to 35,7 % in terms of school numbers between the two dates 
above. Cf. Hungarian statistical yearbook 1919-1922, 181 and ibid. 1939, 185. 


Victor Karady 

pedagogy, normal school in Szeged for teachers in upper primary schools - all 
starting after 1919). 

Let us shortly examine the actual outcome of the various aspects of these 
in part contradictory governmental policies. In concrete terms, how did the 
numerus clausus fare with the policy of 'cultural superiority' ? 

The problem of 'overcrowding' concerned essentially the two universities 
in Budapest, because the provincial ones were recently founded and still fighting 
to secure a sufficiently large clientele to justify their subsistence. Throughout the 
inter-war years the student body of the three classical provincial universities in 
Debrecen, Pecs and Szeged remained altogether much inferior to that of Budapest. 
In 1923/23 the University of the capital city held 72 % of all university students 
and in 1929/30 still some 60 % 17 (outside the Polytechnic University). In 
Budapest the 'overcrowding' could be a real concern in the immediate aftermath 
of the war, but it subsided following the graduation (or the dropping out) of those 
enrolled after the end of the hostilities. This can be seen in the following table. 

Table 1. 

Enrollment in institutions of elite education in Hungary (selected 
years, 1913/4-1930/31) 

-*— » 























. ID 


































Graduates of secondary 

All pupils examined in 
classical secondary 
schools 21 


































19 023 






























Calculated from data in the Hungarian statistical yearbooks of relevant years. 

18 Together with the newly established (1919) Faculty of Economy. 

19 Source : Beszelo szdmok, /Telling figures/, II, Budapest, 1934, 85. 
Ibid., loc. cit. 

21 Before 1915/6 gymnasiums and Realschulen, in 1916/7-1924/5 the latter and girls' highschools, 
afterwards all the latter plus 'real gymnasiums'. Though vocational highschools (especially the 
popular 'higher commercial school') also granted graduation (erettsegi, Matura) carrying the 
essential middle class entitlements (notably the right to shorter military service), only the 
graduation from classical secondary schools conferred the (before 1920 automatic) right to enter 
all university faculties, vocational and law academies. 

Victor Karady 

It displays the changing global number of students registered in the second 
term in various institutions of higher education affected by the numerus clausus as 
well as in secondary schools. 

Table 2. shows clearly the two apogees of the postwar recruitment in 
1918/19, the first peace year (however turbulent it proved to be with the turmoils 
of the October Revolution and the Soviet Republic), and 1921/22-1922/23, the 
years when most middle class repatriates and their offspring were already settled 
in the rump state, so as to get enrolled in a university. It is worth to remark that 
the ebb of inscription by the mid 1920s was not much below the pre-war level of 
the last year of peace (exceeding it actually till 1923/4, included). The post-war 
upsurge of the demand for higher education was, hence, a reality in the longer 
term, since the level of the demand remained in absolute numbers of the same 
order in the rump state as erstwhile under the dual monarchy, with a close to three 
time bigger population. The only institutional network losing weight was that of 
the academies of Law. This was a 'normal' development due to the doubling of 
Law Faculties and their easier accessibility due to their dispersion, that is location 
in three very different parts of the territory. The three regional faculties outside 
Budapest were at much easier reach in the rump state than earlier Kolozsvar/Cluj. 
(Still, it is well known that the latter could become the major training agency - 
some called it a 'factory' - of law graduates in the country in the 1900s. ) Thus, 
the remaining three law academies after 1919 (out of a dozen earlier) tended to 
attract a rather small clientele only. One can conclude that the overcrowding in the 
capital city - if this was the problem to be solved - was efficiently controlled 
under the numerus clausus. But this also involved that the potential Jewish 
candidates - forcibly squeezed out of universities in the country - were not 
'replaced' by Christian ones, at least not completely, in the years following the 
enactment of the ominous legislation. 

What about the global results of the still relatively high level of student 
enrollments in the 1920s and the objectives of the targeted 'cultural superiority' 
dearly paid by heavy investments in schooling and the development of academic 
institutions ? A good indicator to this effect is the number of secondary school 
graduates, the pool of selection of future students and members of the intellectual 
professions. These numbers are much less subject to conjunctional or cyclical 
variations, since graduation must be preceded by eight years of schooling and 
secondary education hardly suffered any perturbation during the war, (unlike the 
number of post-secondary students due to the draft of male alumni for military 
service). Moreover there were no global anti-Jewish restrictions neither in 
secondary education in the inter-war years, in spite of various trends of 
segregation. If the Catholic schools were practically closed to non Catholics in 

Andor Ladanyi, A magyarorszdgi felsooktatds a dualizmus kora masodik feleben, /Hungarian 
higher education in the later period of the Dual Monarchy/, Budapest, 1969, 74. In the years 1901 - 
1910 the Budapest Law Faculty granted altogether 3359 degrees while the Kolozsvar faculty 6685, 
almost the double. Cf. Hungarian statistical yearbook 1910, 392. But for other study branches the 
faculties of the capital city kept the upper hand. 


Victor Karady 

places where there was an option for other types of schools, the State sector as 
well as the Protestant and the few private schools remained open to Jews (up to 
the 1939 extension of the numerus clausus over new entrants into secondary 
education too). Thus the yearly size of the secondary graduate group is among the 
best indicators related to the trends of training the upcoming educated middle 
class. See hereafter the successive yearly figures or multi-annual averages in short 
periods marked here by similar yearly numbers of graduates. It must be noted that 
these figures are only slightly but not dramatically affected by the decline of birth 
rates around 18 years before the dates concerned, since the generations cited 
belong all to the pre-war years, lacking any abrupt demographic changes. 

The upshot is clear. If we compare the first cohorts of secondary school 
graduates of the rump state with the prewar figure, it represented some 80 %, or a 
decrease of one fifth. Compared to the war years, the figure is 68 %, a decrease of 
just one third. This decline is in the same region as observed in the absolute size 
of the educated middle classes compared between the censuses of 1910 - related 
to 'Big Hungary' - and 1920 - related to the 'Rump State', that is around 70 %. 23 
Thereby we have an additional demonstration that the bulk of the established as 
well as the would-be educated elites of the country were residing or actually got 
resettled (via exodus from detached territories) in the rump state. This provided a 
structural potential of sorts for further educational expansion. Indeed, it is clear 
from the above figures that the absolute number of Maturanten continued to 
gradually grow throughout the 1920s, so much so that by the end of the decade it 
reached and then exceeded the prewar levels, in spite of the demographic 
depression which had started to rarify the size of the new generations since the 
late 19th century, especially in the most urbanised Western and central regions of 
monarchic times becoming Trianon Hungary after 1919. 

Thus, the training effort of the rump state appeared to be effective indeed 
on the level of secondary schooling. This should have been, logically, expressed 
in constantly enlarged proportions of the educated strata as well. It is all the more 
interesting to observe that - globally - instead of an expansion, the proportions of 
the highly educated continued either to decline - this applied essentially for men -, 
or stagnate or else only slightly increase - for women - throughout the interwar 
decades. There was a general expansion to be true, practically in every age group, 
of the literate population and even of those having completed at least 6 primary 
school classes. The figures of the latter grew globally for men from 54 % in 1920 
to 58,5 % in 1930 and 64 % in 1941 and for women from 47 % to 54 % and 61 % 

23 Lumping together lawyers, medical doctors, pharmacists and the teaching staff of secondary and 
highr education, the figure of 1920 is exactly 69,4 % of that of 1910. Cf. Magyar statisztikai 
kozlemenyek, /Hungarian statistical reports/, 76, annexe 123. 

24 In 1895, approximate date of birth of those liable to graduate in 1913/4, the general birthrate was 
41,4 per thousand inhabitants. {Hungarian statistical yearbook, 1895, 56.). In 1912, the 
approximate date of birth of the generation liable to graduate in 1929/30, the comparable figure 
was only 36 per thousand. {Hungarian statistical yearbook, 1912, 31. But these rates were much 
lower in the cities, especially in Budapest, but also in Transdanubia and the central counties 
making up the bulk of the territories of the later rump state. 


Victor Karady 

respectively. There was a clear expansion of the bottom level of the educational 
pyramid. Moving higher though in the same hierarchy, the decline was all but 
general for the young ages groups, especially for young men. Among the latter 
aged 18-19, the proportion of secondary school graduates was 5,9 % in 1920, 5 % 
in 1930 and only 4,8 in 1941, while among girls the comparable figures were 2,5 
%, 2,3 % and 2,8 % respectively. 26 We get quite similar results for those with 
higher educational degrees proper, aged 25-29. The relevant figures were 
successively 3,6 %, 2,9 % and 2,9 %, while for women 0,4 %, 0,4 % and 0,6 %. 27 
How could the above demonstrated expansion of elite training produce 
such mediocre global results, all the more that the further decline of the number of 
children per family and the simultaneous development of the supply of elite 
training must have significantly contributed to enhance per capita investments in 
education ? It is not the place to enter into an in-depth analysis of the data cited. 
Let us simply refer to two (and a half) explanatory factors. One has to do with the 
possibly enormous demographic weight of young middle class refugees in the 
1920 figures, which disappeared from among the young age groups of later 
censuses. The second concerns the real decline or stagnation of even age -group 
specific enrollments in elite education after the economic crisis of the early 1930s, 
which had a negative repercussion on the depressed 1941 figures. Finally, for 
1941, the re-annexation of already earlier less developed territories of the former 
monarchy meant that populations of lower levels of education were incorporated 
into the rump state, generating a more modest average intellectual score for the 
whole population. However it was, the general educational balance sheet of the 
Christian Course proved to be altogether negative. 

Women under the numerus clausus 

What happened with the third objective, the control and indeed 
minimization of women's educational promotion. Girls' educational advancement 
actually started at the turn of the century and accelerated decisively on the eve of 
the war as well as during the war years, especially in territories which would 
remain in the rump state after 1919. It is well known that the first secondary 
school for girls was founded by the National Association for Women's education 
in 1896 in Budapest, that is just one year after the admission of the first women to 
two university faculties, Medicine and Philosophy (Arts and Sciences, 1895). It 
was followed by a number of new school foundations. Responding to the 

15 See the comprehensive table of data collected by Barbara Papp in her study : Nooktatas es 
„kepzett nok" a ket vilaghaboni kozott, /Women's education and 'educated women' in the inter- 
war period/, in Gyorgy K6ver (ed.), Zsombekok, op. cit. 720. 
26 Ibid. 122. 
21 Ibid. 123. 

See Istvan Meszaros, Kozepszintii iskoldink kronologidja es topogrdfidja 996-1948, 
/Chronology and topography of our secondary schools, 996-1948/, Budapest, Akademiai, 1988, 


Victor Karady 

expanding demand, in Budapest five new girls' secondary school opened its doors 
between 1914 and 1918. Moreover, out of the 31 schools for girls operating in 
1917/18, not less than 22 remained in the rump state, and their numbers grew 
rapidly further on. By 1927/28 there were 30 girls' gymnasiums and lyceums in 
the country with 13 of them concentrated in Budapest. At the end of the period 
in 1938/9 the number of girls' gymnasiums and lyceums was 87 out of a total of 
263. One third of the whole provision of secondary education granting the matura 
{erettsegi) was at that time reserved for women, in Budapest almost half of it (28 
out of 61). In larger towns there was no obstacle for girls to complete a 
secondary school itinerary in institutions of their own, where the same 
entitlements could be obtained as in boy's secondary schools, besides the fact that 
girls could also sit for the exam and take their erettsegi degree as 'private pupils' 
in boy's gymnasiums and Realschulen. Till 1915/6 women actually could only 
take the graduation exam in boys' schools, but afterwrds girls' highschools 
progressively took over the graduating functions for girls, so much so that by the 
end of the inter-war years most female graduations took place in girls' 

Table 2. The girls' share (%) in elite education (1913/14-1925/26, 

selected years) 


% among 
secondary school 
pupils having 
passed an exam 

% among 
graduates of 

% among all 
students of 
higher education 




































See the relevant map in Meszaros, 316. 
30 Ibid., 327. 

Hungarian statistical yearbook, 1939, 177. 
32 In 1918/19 almost half of graduating girls (48 %) took their grades in boys' secondary schools, 
but this proportion diminished to 20 % or less as of 1922/23. Data from Hungarian statistical 
yearbooks. In 1930/31 already only 10 % of girls graduated from a boys' school. 

Data from the Hungarian Statistical Yearbooks. 

Victor Karady 

One can say that the supply for women's secondary education developed 
fast and indeed disproportionately, given the limitations opposed to their clientele 
to gain access to higher education and - as it will be apparent in the table below - 
given the specificity of women's demand for restricted elite training, including 
secondary education and even matura but less often further studies, as compared 
to male graduates. The reason for such disproportion had to do with relatively low 
scale public investments in this sector. The state and local governments apparently 
tended to follow the demand - which was 'structurally limited' under the numerus 
clausus - and contributed moderately only to the establishment of new girls' 
schools. This was may be also due to the fact that Jewish girls took an even larger 
share in the demand than Jewish boys. The churches, on the contrary, made 
women's education a field of outright competition for winning the souls. This can 
explain why only 7 public (and secular) girls' schools opened their doors from 
1918 to 1940 in the capital city as against 10 Church schools. On the country 
level in 1919/20 almost half of girls' schools (14 out of 29) were still run by the 
state or by municipalities. Their numbers hardly increased and their proportion 


sharply decreased one third only (16 out of 49) by 1938/39. If Budapest was 
certainly the biggest territorial unit of the educational market in the country, the 
developmental dynamics of the supply of girls' secondary education certainly 
anticipated the growth of the demand in the inter-war years. This is what Table 2 
clearly demonstrates. 

There we find indicators of the expansion of the female educational 
demand. In 1913/4 there were only 249 girls graduating from secondary schools, a 
mere 4,2 % of all graduates. This proportion reached 10 % in 1917/8, grew to 14,5 
% in 1918/9 and attained 16,8 % in 1919/20 (with 687 female graduates). The 
figures oscillated around 15 % till the last years of the 1920s as shown on Table 2, 
when they made a new jump upwards with 16,4 % in 1928/9, 18,6 % in 1929/30 
and 19,3 % in 1 930/3 1. 36 This indeed quite significant growth shows both the 
progress of the educational modernization of the country, whereby women's elite 
education became an accepted norm in some middle class milieus, as well as its 
drastic limitations, especially if we compare the above figures with the extension 
of the network of girls' educational facilities. Girls were always somewhat more 
often present among rank and file pupils than among graduates of secondary 
education, and they appeared much less often among university students. 

This is a clear indication of their constantly hampered or inhibited 
educational mobility, compared to boys, especially when we know that they were 

34 Meszaros, 167-174. 

Hungarian statistical yearbook 1919-1922, 181 and ibid. 1939, 185. 

Figures from the Hungarian statistical yearbooks. 
37 In the years 1920/21-1925/26 the proportion of girls exceeded regularly 17 % among secondary 
school students, while their average representation among maturenten was only 15,6 %. Data 
calculated from the relevant issues of the Hungarian Statistical Yearbooks. 


Victor Karady 


extracted on average from much higher, more 'bourgeois' social circles and 
much better endowed with cultural and intellectual assets. 39 In 1913/14 for 
example half of the pupils of higher girls' schools with Hungarian mother tongue 
knew German, while only 18,3 % of comparable pupils of boys' gymnasiums and 
Realschulen. 40 In 1925 some 67 % of female students in Budapest spoke a foreign 
language, 35 % even two or more, while only 48 % of male students had the same 
skills (with only 14 % possessing several languages). l Not independently from 
their family background, they appeared to display on average significantly higher 
scholarly achievements, as witnessed by their mean grades at Matura exams. In 
the years 1908/9-1914/15 not less than 38,2 % of graduates from a girls' 
secondary school obtained their Matura with the best grade as against close to 
half that proportion among male graduates. 42 The fact that in spite of all this the 
women's share among university students hardly exceeded in the initial years of 
the numerus clausus half of their proportions among Maturanten, demonstrates 
the combined consequences of their lesser demand for higher education and the 
drastic efficiency of the numerus clausus directed against women in universities. 

The primary consequence of such limitation of the admission of women 
was to be found in indices of their better academic performances, 43 a direct 
outcome of their initial over-qualification as against male Maturanten and their 
intellectual over-selection among the best graded secondary school graduates. But 
their exclusion from most faculties and vocational schools also generated a 
sometimes spectacular concentration of women students in a few study tracks, 
above all in Budapest and especially in the Philosophical faculties, but also - 
though to a much lesser extent - in the artistic academies (music, fine arts, 
industrial arts, theatre) and in the commercial sector of the recently founded 
Faculty of Economy - the latter all in Budapest -, besides the Faculties of 

The concentration of women in the University of Budapest (instead of 
Kolozsvar) was quite spectacular before the war, up to 92 % in the years 1911/12- 
19134/14 . This can be connected to the much more heavily urban (and Budapest 
based) middle class selection of female students, as against their male 

38 Following a survey in 1925 only 4,4 % of female students belonged to lower class families, 
while 14,2 % of their male counterparts were extracted from lower class social categories. Cf. 
Budapest Szekesfovdros Statisztikai Evkonyve, /Statistical yearbook of the residential capital 
Budapest/, 1926, 650. 

Cf. Viktor Karady, "A tarsadalmi egyenlotlensegek Magyarorszagon a nok felso 
iskolaztatasanak korai fazisaban", /Social inequalities in the first phase of development of higher 
education among women in Hungary/, Ferfiuralom /Masculin domination/, ed. by Miklos Hadas, 
Budapest, Replika-konyvek, 1994, 176-195. 

40 Calculated from data in Hungarian Statistical Yearbook 1914, 273-274. 

41 Source line in note 35 above. 

42 Calculated from data in relevant years of the Hungarian Statistical Yearbooks. 

43 The 1925 survey in Budapest found for example that only 41 % of female students had not sit 
this year for an oral exam (colloquium) as against 54 % of male students. Statistical yearbook of 
the residential capital city Budapest, 1926, 652. 

Data from Hungarian statistical yearbooks of relevant years. 

Victor Karady 

counterparts. This could not continue under the numerus clausus, as witnessed by 
their enrollments in the 1920s in the medical faculties, for which detailed surveys 
are at our disposal. While in Budapest serious restrictions prevailed against 
women's inscription throughout the years 1920-29, to the effect of limiting female 
presence in the student body to 7,2 % (very close to the figure of Jewish 
representation), the more liberal inscription policies of provincial universities 
benefited to women as well. In the years 1919-1929 some 23 % of medical 
students were women in Pecs, 16,5 % in Szeged and 13,5 % in Debrecen. 
Altogether 70 % of female medical students studied on the benches of provincial 
faculties at that time. Later on this unbalance must have changed, though, and 
the capital city regained the majority of its female medical clientele. By 1938/39- 
1939/40 Budapest retained 55 % of them and the rest was dispersed in smaller 
groups in the provincial faculties. 

But the majority of female students gathered progressively more and more 
in the Philosophical faculties. Indeed till 1923 women studied essentially the Arts 
and Sciences and Medicine in fairly equal numbers, up to above 90 % of all 
female students. The remainder was divided between pharmacy and the recently 
(1919) opened Economic Faculty in Budapest, the latter too admitting women, 
while Law, Theology and Polytechnics were kept closed to them for most of the 
inter-war years (at least as 'regular students'). But in the first five years of the 
numerus clausus female students were specially targeted by restrictions in medical 
faculties, especially in Budapest, so that by 1926/7 some 61 % of women students 
were enrolled in Philosophical Faculties and in 1927/8 more than 65 %. As a 
consequence, by 1930/31 women constituted already close to half (49,1 %) of the 
student body of the latter (including the sciences), a proportion which declined but 
not decisively in the 1930s. In 1934/5 it stood at 44 % and in 1937/8 at 40 %. 46 

The relatively less restricted entry of women to Philosophical faculties 
could only increase the global share of Budapest in the female student population 
on the strength of specific conditions prevailing in this sector of the academic 
market. The educated middle classes of the capital city by themselves produced a 
good part of this female educational demand. But such demand was particularly 
captured by the presence of the main scholarly celebrities in the humanities and 
the natural sciences in Budapest, the end station of academic careers in fields of 
advanced learning, where teaching was less standardized, that is much more 
personalized than in medicine or in technical disciplines. By the end of the period 
in 1938/-1939/40 women represented 44 % of Arts and Sciences students in 
Budapest as against 37 % in provincial faculties. 7 This relative overweight of 
women in the Budapest Philosophical Faculty, combined with the fact that all the 
teaching institutions of other major study tracks open to women either in a 
university (like pharmacy and economics) or in an academy (especially for artistic 
training) were located in Budapest (with the unique exception of the Normal 

45 Survey results from the project quoted in note 1. 

46 Calculated from data in the Hungarian statistical yearbooks of relevant years. 

47 Calculations following data in Hungarian statistical yearbooks of 1939 and 1940. 


Victor Karady 

School for teachers in higher primary schools, transferred to Szeged in 1928), 
preserved (and by the end of the period enhanced) the status of the capital city as 
the absolute center of women's higher education in the country in the inter-war 
years. While in 1925/6 only 52 % of all female university students were studying 
in Budapest, this was the case of 68 % of them by 1938/9. 

But between the two last years mentioned one can observe hardly any 
general progress as to the participation of girls in higher education. Globally, 
student numbers in universities decreased gradually and significantly - by one 
third - during this period in Budapest (from 4515 in 1925/6 to 3006 in 1938/9) and 
oscillated in the three provincial universities around 1000 students with ups and 
downs in each. The share of women stood at 11,7 % in 1925/6 to reach 13,8 % 
only in 1938/9 in universities proper (excluding other institutions of higher 
education). This quasi-stagnation can be interpreted as a visible impact of the 
policy of numerus clausus on the participation of women in higher education. 

Exclusion and escape for Jews 

The most direct outcome of the repressive law can be observed, obviously 
enough, in the diminution of the share of Jews in the student body of universities 
and law academies, but also in a number of other institutions of higher education 
which, though officially not affected by the law, also applied - sometimes with a 
vengeance, quite arbitrarily - the limitation of Jewish enrollments. This was the 
case particularly of the so called Eastern Commercial Academy (which used to 
have a quasi-majority of Jews in the student body before the World War), the 
Academy of Industrial Arts and the Veterinary College - all in Budapest -, as well 
as - in the provinces - that of the Mining Academy (transferred from 
Selmecbanya to Sopron after 1919) and the three remaining Agricultural 
academies. One may remark here that, contrary to the law itself, the restrictions 
to the enrollment of Jews were often (irregularly though in the various institutions 
and years) extended over two categories officially not concerned by the text of the 
law : baptized Jews - a not infrequent cluster after the antisemitic crisis years of 
1919-20 - and Jewish students engaged already in a higher semester of studies. 
This scheme was applied for example in 1920/21 at the Budapest faculties of Arts 
and Sciences as well as Medicine. 50 

The first escape route for Jews who were refused admission in a home 
institution of higher education was, understandably enough, the departure abroad. 
The target of this new type of forced peregrinations was the network of 
universities and academies either in neighboring countries (Austria, 


49 See an interpretation of these excesses of the anti-Jewish legislation in my study, A numerus 
clausus es az egyetemi piac, op. cit. 189-190. 

See Andor Ladanyi, Az egyetemi ifjusdg az ellenforradalom elso eveiben (1919-1921), 
/Academic youth in the first years of the counterrevolution - 1919-1921), Budapest, Akademiai, 
1979, 177-178. 

Victor Karady 

Czechoslovakia, but also, more exceptionally, Croatia, Transylvania under 
Romanian rule or Serbia) or Germany and Switzerland, where members of the 
Hungarian Jewish intelligentsia were accustomed to spend their academic 
Wanderjahren already before 1914. Vienna was a central place for earlier 
peregrinations 5 where the proportion of Jews among students from Hungary - 
some 23 % altogether in all institutions of higher education - was similar to that 
studying in contemporary Hungary. In 1910 among students from Hungary at 
the University of Vienna Jews represented as much as 48 % in the Medical 
Faculty, 23 % in the Law Faculty and 14 % in the Arts and Sciences Faculty. 
Higher studies abroad had moderate or tolerable financial costs before 1919, and 
the countries cited above offered favorable human conditions sharing the Central 
European urban culture and an academic system modeled on the Prussian pattern, 
which was that of Hungary too. The last aspect could be important since study 
terms (semesters) could be validated, sometimes without reservation, in a 
curriculum liable to be crowned by a Hungarian graduation or, failing this, foreign 
degrees granted in these countries could be easily recognized as equivalent (via 
nostrification) to a national diploma. 

Vienna continued to be important for expatriated Jewish students after 
1920 for some years, but less and less so, due to the increase of living costs and 
the growing anti- Jewish tide. The Technische Hochshule adopted a 10 % 'Jewish 
quota' in 1923 and there were anti- Jewish restrictions in the classical University 
of Vienna too. German universities offered usually better reception in the 
Weimar Republic, though the mounting tide of Nazism by the end of the 1920s 
and the high costs of living made life more and more difficult for the 'refugees of 
the numerus clausus ' 5 till it made it eventually impossible after the Nazi take- 
over in January 1933. At that time France and most particularly Italy became 
major choices for studies of Hungarian Jews abroad. 5 The Italian fascist 
government prepared a hearty welcome to foreigners, including Jews, notably by 
abolishing tuition fees in 1923. This policy was reversed though in 1938, when 
Mussolini sacrificed his formerly philosemitic stance on the altar of the alliance 
with the Third Reich. 57 

See Gabor Patyi, Magyarorszdgi didkok becsi egyetemeken es foiskoldkon, 1890-1918, 
/Hungarian students in Viennese universities and academies, 1890-1918/, Budapest, 2004. 

Ibid. op. cit. 34. 
3 See my study, Funktionswandel der osterreichischen Hochschulen in der Ausbildung der 
ungarischen Fachintelligenz vor und nach dem ersten Weltkrieg, in Victor Karady, Wolfgand 
Mitter (ed.), Education and Social Structure in Central Europe in the 19th and 21th century, Koln- 
Wien, Bohlau Verlag, 1990, 177-207, especially 188. 

54 Michael L. Miller, From White Terror to Red Vienna, in Frank Stern, Barbara Eichinger (ed.), 
Wien und die jiidische Erfahrung, 1900-1938, Bohlau Verlag, Wien, Koln, Weimar, 2009, 307- 

55 See Michael L. Miller's study in this volume. 

56 See the relevant data in Funktionswandel. ..,198. 

57 See Andrea Camelli, Presence et caracteristiques des etudiants etrangers en Italie, 1945-1998, in 
Hartmut Rudiger Peter, Natalia Tikhonov (ed.), Les Universites : ponts a travers I Europe, 
Frankfurt/M, etc., Peter Lang, 2003, 1 13-135, particularly 115-116. 


Victor Karady 

There is no reliable information about the quantitative scope of the Jewish 
student body abroad under the numerus clausus, though contemporary and 
subsequent estimations put it to a very high level. Taking into account classical 
universities and the Budapest Polytechnics in the years 1910/11-1913/14 some 3,5 
% of the Hungarian student population was studying abroad. This figure was 5 % 
in 1920/21-1922/23 and 6,5 % in 1923/4-1925/26 following official data. 58 If 
proportions did not show a dramatic change, the absolute figure of peregrines 
abroad jumped from an average of 516 in the years 1910/11-1913/14 to a mean 
number of 898 in 1920/21-1922/23 and 1071 in 1923/24-1925/26. But the big 
difference between the pre-war and the post-war period was in this respect that the 
proportion of Jews among students abroad became preponderant after 1919 from a 
minority of may be just one quarter or one fifth earlier. 

My survey results on enrollments in the University of Vienna for sample 
semesters between 1920/21 and 1930/31 indicate that among students from 
Hungary 91 % were Jewish in the Medical Faculty and 71 % in the Philosophical 
(Arts and Sciences) Faculty. 5 One of the main authorities of the statistical 
services of inter-war Hungary (an author of right extremist orientation) evaluated 
quite similarly the Jewish share among Hungarian students abroad at 80 % for the 
whole period. This statistical study set the proportion of those abroad among all 
Jewish students from Hungary between 25 % and 45 % following different years 
(with a summit of 51 % for 1927/28), that is, an average of one third of all Jewish 
students at one time. But all this does not say anything about the real numbers 
concerned, whether in absolute or relative terms. Another source (from an author 
passionately committed against the discriminatory law) mentioned for the years 
around 1925 some five thousand Jewish academic exiles - a most probably 
excessive figure, though it is often taken for granted by several authors (included 
some in this book). A different contemporary source, favorable to the 
incriminated numerus clausus law, referred to official statistical data on 
Hungarian students abroad in the years 1920/21-1923/24, stating that these 
numbers oscillated around 1100 with a probability that some three fourth of them 
- 7-800 - were Jewish. 63 It also cited a Jewish source stating that in the years 
under scrutiny the Central Committee of Student Assistance in Budapest cared for 
760 Hungarian Jewish students abroad. This figure appears to be consistent with 
the estimation above, following which those abroad might represent one third of 
all Jews from Hungary engaged in higher studies in and outside the rump state, 

Published in Hungarian statistical yearbooks. 
59 See the relevant table in FunktionswandeL.,,202. 

60 Cf. Alajos Kovacs, Magyarorszagi zsido hallhatok hazai es kulfoldi foiskolakon, /Jewish 
students from Hungary in Hungarian and foreign institutions of higher learning/, Magyar 
statisztikai szemle, /Hungarian statistical review/, 1938, 9, 897-902, particularly 899. 

61 Alajos Kovacs, loc.cit. 

62 Pal Bethlen (ed.), Numerus clausus, Budapest (no date, 1925 ?), 139, 146. 

Istvan Haller, Hare a numerus clausus koriil, /Fight around the numerus clausus/, Budapest, 
1926, 154. 
Ibid., 155. 

Victor Karady 

since in the years between 1920 and 1930 Jews identified among students in 
Hungary proper were around 1500-2000. It is also consistent with official data on 
students abroad, a yearly average of 898 in 1920/21-1922/23 and as many as 1071 
in 1923/4-1925/6, if the above estimation is confirmed that four-fifth of them 
were Jewish. Further research is still needed to arrive at definitive results in this 
matter, but the main conclusions, drafted above, are certainly credible. 

Provincial universities represented, nevertheless, another route of escape 
for Jews under the numerus clausus, however restricted this proved to be, 
especially in the 1930s, following the rise of right extremism. The arguments and 
demonstrations put forward is Maria M. Kovacs' study in this book convincingly 
explain the conjunctural conditions in which provincial universities acted, 
sometimes voluntarily, in favor of the admission of Jews rejected in Budapest. 
The particularly liberal policy of the University of Pecs in the 1920s - a 
borderline case in this matter - is rather well known, especially in its Medical 
Faculty during the immediate aftermaths of the introduction of the numerus 
clausus. Among parents of Jewish medical students enrolled in Pecs in 1919-1929 
some 41 % were living in Budapest against 20 % of parents of Christian students. 
Comparable proportions were 23 % against 5,6 % in Szeged and 15 % against 4 % 
in Debrecen for the same years. As to students of the Arts and Sciences for the 
same years the comparable proportions of parents living in Budapest were in Pecs 
15 % for Jews as against 4 % for others, in Szeged 24 % for Jews and 4 % for 
others, in Debrecen 7 % for Jews and 4 % for others. Manifestly, the 
peregrination of Jewish students from the capital city to the provinces affected 
above all Pecs and Szeged, much less Debrecen. Anyhow, the transfer of many 
Jewish students of Medicine and the Arts and Sciences to the provinces who, 
earlier, would have logically sought enrollment in Budapest, is well attested. 
Table 3 carries other results to the same effect. 

The contrast for Jews is indeed strongly marked between the pre-war 
situation and the years under the numerus clausus. Rejection of Jews from 
Budapest was obviously decisive under the repressive legislation, while only quite 
limited in the provinces, especially in Pecs. 

There the Medical Faculty would take up Jewish candidates in the 
beginning without much hesitation, since they contributed irreplaceably to the 
legitimization of the very subsistence of the new institution. Later on this special 
position of Pecs manifestly faded away to the benefit mostly of the two other 
provincial universities and also, to some extent, on behalf of Budapest. By the end 
of the 1920s Budapest University (probably due to the 1928 attenuation of the 
numerus clausus) regained up to one half of all Jewish university students in the 
country, but not more, contrary to the pre-war situation. In the same time Szeged 
but also Debrecen came up each with some one sixth of the Jewish student body 
admitted to university studies inside Hungary. For non Jews, a contrary 

65 Data calculated from the Hungarian statistical yearbooks of the years concerned. 
' From my survey results of graduates and students in Hungarian higher education cited in note 1 . 


Survey results as in the precedent note. 


Victor Karady 

development can be observed with the progressive diminution of the 
overcrowding of the capital city - which was more pronounced, as we have seen 
above, in the early 1920s than before the war - and the increase of the intake due 
to the provincial universities. 

Table 3. The territorial distribution of Jewish and non Jewish students 
before and after the introduction of the numerus clausus in Hungarian 


classical universities and law academies (selected years) 




















3 043 
















1 941 








1 980 








1 527 
















1 107 
























1 121 



































8 100 
























10 232 








10 671 

Table 3 offers a clear picture in its last column of the indeed brutal global 
outcome of the numerus clausus for Jews. In 1920/21 the Jewish student body was 
less than half of the pre-war number - one fifth only in Budapest -, in spite of the 
fact that the rump state with its capital (the latter alone holding after 1919 close to 
half of Jews in the country) was harboring the bulk of 'modernised' and 
'assimilated' Jewish middle classes, the offspring of which were filling the 
benches of universities. Among Jews inscribed in the Medical Faculty of the 
capital city in 1870-1920 almost half (48,6 %) were born in Transdanubia and 
between Danube and Tisza, while only 41 % of the Hungarian Jewish 
population was living in these regions in 1900. In 1910 the two Western and 
central regions of the country hosted 55 % of Jewish members of the liberal 
professions and civil servants, the staple sources of those engaged in educational 

' Data from the Hungarian statistical yearbooks . 

Results of the prosopographical survey of Hungarian students and graduates cited in note 1. 
Calculated from data in Hungarian statistical report 5, 538-539. 

Victor Karady 

mobility via higher studies. 71 Without numerus clausus Jews should have 
logically increased their relative share among students in the rump state, following 
pre-war trends of educational proclivities. Though Jewish student numbers grew 
somewhat in the years 1921-1923, then they went down to as low as one third of 
the pre-war level for several years, exactly till the 1928 upturn (abolition of the 
explicitly anti- Jewish bias of the numerus clausus). But even after this, their 
numbers hardly attained the 1920 level in 1930/31. Nothing comparable happened 
for Christian students of classical universities, whose numbers exceeded the pre- 
war level throughout the 1920s with a visible tendency to grow. 

Obviously enough, the escape route to the provinces was also a straight 
one for Jews, like that of studies abroad. It mobilized only a part of an utterly 
decimated potential Jewish student population. Still one can cautiously estimate 
that in the first years of the anti- Jewish legislation there were as many or even 
more Jewish student exiles in the provinces than abroad, following the estimations 
of those forced to expatriate themselves in the early 1920s. In later years, the 
number of those beginning their studies in foreign countries must have taken the 
upper hand, as compared to Jewish students in provincial faculties in Hungary 

Transformations of the Jewish student population 

This central topic of any study of the consequences of the numerus clausus 
can begin with the examination of the destiny of Jewish women in academe 
which, pararadoxically enough, appears to have developed less unfavorably than 
that of male students. 

Though in doubly touched by the numerus clausus (as women and as 
Jews), still, may be paradoxically, Jewish women fared somewhat better under the 
repressive legislation than Jewish men. In the survey cited above on the Budapest 
student body in 1925, Jewish women made up 13,3 % of female students against 
only 8 % of Jews among male students. The implication of this result is fully 
confirmed if we consider the medical faculties in the years 1918-29. In the first 
troubled academic year after the end of the war hostilities Jews represented 61 % 
of the female students and 53 % of the male students in the Medical Faculty of 
Budapest, where teaching was the less perturbed, given the fact that the two new 
provincial medical faculties were not yet operational at that time and the 
Kolozsvar/Cluj Faculty was Romanized precisely in December 1918, in the midst 
of the academic year. Though this was an exceptional year, witnessing the return 
of masses of former soldiers from the trenches back to the benches of universities, 
the high proportion of Jews among female students was not so exceptional. In the 
first period of women's admission to higher studies the representation of Jews 

Calculated from data in Hungarian statistical report 56, 712-781. 

72 Cf. Note 37 above. 


Victor Karady 


among female students oscillated close to 50 %. Now, the disproportion 
observed in this exceptional year between the representation of the two sexes can 

- mutatis mutandis - be identified throughout the later years of the numerus 
clausus. In 1919-1929 Jewish women made up 27,7 % of the female student body 
in the Budapest medical faculty as against 12,3 % of Jews among males. The 
comparable proportions were less dramatically diverging, but still significant in 
two cases out of three : 25 % and 24 % in Szeged, 16,2 % and 13,2 % in Debrecen 
and - exceptionally enough - 39,5 % and 57,3 % in Pecs. 74 

On the whole, with the notable exception of Pecs, Jewish women thus 
appeared to be relatively less severely hit by the numerus clausus than Jewish 
men. The explanation of this difference is certainly worth a more in-depth 
investigation. Still, among possible factors, one can refer to the above mentioned 
higher social extraction of women students in general, shared most probably with 
a vengeance by Jewish female students (even if as yet we have no precise 
information in this matter), which could facilitate the circumvention of hindrances 
at admission, thanks to the 'social capital' of those concerned, that is their nexus 
to academic decision makers. The fact that the best qualified secondary school 
graduates had official priority for admission could also confer relative facilities to 
Jewish female candidates, since they belonged to the best performers at Matura as 
witnessed by their average grades. In 1927/8-1930/31 for example both Jewish 
boys and girls scored the highest average academic achievement among their 
mates at graduation from secondary schools, but the boys with 19,1 % of those 
obtaining grade 1 and the girls with 30,2 %. 75 It may well be also that Jewish girls 

- hit by the numerus clausus - were less liable to be allowed by their families to 
leave for universities abroad than boys, following moral conventions of the 
contemporary middle classes, offering much less liberty to girls to move out of the 
household. Their family could thus put up more resistance to the exclusion from 
higher studies in the country than the family of the young men concerned. 

Returning to the problem of differential educational excellence, the 
numerus clausus appears to have maintained the relative preeminence of Jews, 
though our surveys in this matter are not yet sufficiently elaborated for a clear 
demonstration for those admitted to higher education. For secondary schooling 
however there are some quite significant research results at our disposal. One can 
for example compare the 'survival rate' of Jewish and Christian male pupils of 
secondary schools from class 1 to class 5 (between 1927/8 and 1932/3) on the 
country wide level and find 89,5 % Jewish boys in class 5 as against only 56,8 % 

7 In 1896/7-1904/5 it was indeed not less than 48,6 % in the University of Budapest, where some 
90 % of female students were enrolled, (cf. Statistical yearbook of the residential capital city 
Budapest, 1905, 270) and as much as 53 % in the year 190/4/5 {Acta regiae scientiae universitatis 
Hungariae, Budapest, 1905, 85). In the years 1908/9-1914/15 Jews made up 40,2 % of women in 
higher education in the whole country. (Data from the Hungarian statistical yearbooks of relevant 

74 Survey data from the study cited in note 1 . 

5 Sandor Asztalos, A magyar kozepiskoldk statisztikdja, /Statistics of Hungarian secondary 
schools/, 114. 

Victor Karady 

of Christian boys. For female pupils the similar proportions were as high as 95,9 
% for Jewish girls compared to only 80 % for Christian girls. 76 In higher 
education the achievement differences may have proved to be enhanced by the 
strong intellectual pre-selection of Jews admitted in spite of the numerus 
clausus. 77 Most of these relatively privileged Jews had to display the best grades 
at secondary school graduation to have a chance to gain admission, hence a degree 
of academic excellence must have been 'structurally conditioned' by their 
standing as the best alumni of secondary education. This may be the reason why 
the proportions of Jews graduating from the Budapest Medical Faculty appear to 
have significantly higher than the 6 % quota of the numerus clausus - 7,9 % in 
1924-1930, as much as 10,4 in 1931-1938 and 7 % even in the calamitous years of 
the anti-Jewish laws 1939-1944. 78 

Such differences cannot be attested though in drop-out rates between the 
first and the second semesters of first year students, as some authors suggest. It 
has been indeed alleged, that raw proportions of Jews exceed often the 6 % 
official quota even after the mid- 1920s because of the differential drop-out rates 
to the benefit of Jews between the two semesters of the academic year. At that 
time all Jews having been enrolled before the introduction of the numerus clausus 
could already finish their studies, hence they could not contribute to Jewish 
student numbers. In reality there is no empirical evidence to attest this. Drop-out 
rates did not much differ among Jews and non Jews, oscillating indifferently 
around 6 % from the first to the second semesters throughout the years 1920- 
1934, the Jewish rates exceeding sometimes those of their Christian counterparts. 
The risk of dropping out between semesters was manifestly governed by 
contingencies, alien from the dispositional disparities typical of the two opposing 
clusters - Jews or non Jews - in academe. 

The social profile of Jewish students enrolled in Hungary under the 
numerus clausus seems to have undergone a rather significant change. One aspect 
of this had to do with their social background. Though, for the moment, our 
survey results concern in this respect the medical faculties only, a marked 
evolution seems to have taken place as compared to the pre-war situation. 

In Budapest the socio-professional extraction of students suffered a visible 
deficit in terms of 'democratisation' in the rump state during the inter-war years, 
compared to 1918 and 1919. In the last years the pool of student recruitment of 
the Budapest Faculty still more (in 1918) or less (in 1919) extended over the 
former territory (in 1919 mostly via the arrival of refugee students from the 
regions lost for the rump state). These were also the only academic years before 
the numerus clausus for which the parents' profession can be empirically 

76 Calculated from data in Sandor Asztalos, op. cit. 62-64. 

77 See the differences of the rates of admission between Jews and Christians in Table 2 presented 
in Andor Ladanyi's study, above in this book. 

78 Survey results on students of the Faculty of Medicine in Budapest. 


Victor Karady 

documented. For Jews the proportions of medical students with fathers 
belonging to the lower classes (peasants, manual workers) and the petty 
bourgeoisie (traders, craftsmen) decreased from a 50,4 % high in 1918 to 33,4 % 
in 1920-29 and to 31,4 % in 1930-1944. (No Jewish students were admitted to the 
Pest Medical Faculty in the Autumn term 1919 during the ravages of the White 
terror.) As to Christian medical students in Budapest, only 27,5 % of them had 
lower or petty bourgeois ascendancy in 1918, 31,5 % in 1919 as well as 31,9 % in 
1920-29 but only 28,8 % in 1930-1944. The decline is quite important indeed for 
Jews, though practically inexistent for Christians. 

For Jews the rather obvious explanation lies in the impact of the numerus 
clausus which was if not withstood, at least better avoided or eschewed by those 
young people from middle class or educated families liable to have ties with the 


establishment of the Christian Course. But one also has to take into account the 
fact that the major social brackets of their academic clientele - neologue or 
secular middle class Jewry - was remaining in the rump state, especially in its 
Western and Central parts (including Budapest - representing henceforth close to 
half of Jews in Hungary), so that there was a sudden artificial 
'embourgeoisement' of sorts of Jewry living in the country. All this was 
consistent with and also contributed to the growing relative representation of the 
Jewish educated middle classes among students in Budapest to the detriment of 
the lower strata with less formal schooling. As to Christians, the main line of 
interpretation should follow the influx of masses of middle class refugees in the 
country, whether sons (and daughters) of the former Hungarian administrative 
staff or students of the University of Kolozsvar/Cluj as well as the law academies 
and other institutions of higher learning in detached territories (Pozsony 
University, Academy of Mining and Forestry in Selmecbanya), emanating mostly 

O 1 

from the same civil service or professional circles. They contributed by their 
own weight in the new student body to continuously restrict the participation of 
the lower classes in higher studies. 

The message of the above data reasserts the differences between the social 
recruitment of Jews and Christians in Budapest, the former showing a much 

79 Data on the professional standing of parents (father or guardian) of students can be found in 
semestrial inscription sheets in universities of the Habsburg Empire and some successor states. 
The latter perished for the faculties of Budapest for the pre- 19 18 period in the fire of the National 
Archives during the Soviet attack of the capital city following the 1956 October Revolution. In the 
framework of the Project cited in note 1 we are attempting the reconstruction of this 
prosopographical information via similar data of secondary school pupils in the graduating 8th 
classes since the existence of the matura as a condition of admission to higher studies (1850- 

80 This was already remarked by contemporary observers. See Alajos Kovacs, Ertelmisegiink 
nemzeti jellegenek biztositdsa /Ensuring the national character of our intellectuals/, Budapest, 
1926, 12-13. 

81 As an indication to this effect one can cite the survey result on the social background of students 
in the Budapest Medical Faculty in 1920-1929. On the whole 32,3 % of them emanated from the 
lower classes and the petty bourgeoisie as against only 28,3 % of students born in Transylvania. 
The difference is not decisive, but significant. Further survey results must clarify this issue. 


Victor Karady 

'lower' social and educational profile. While for most Jewish students of medicine 
higher studies constituted before the war an avenue of upwards social and 
educational mobility, and this was apparently maintained for a third of them even 
under the numerus clausus, while the same applied to a significantly smaller 
portion of their Christian counterparts. In this respect provincial and gender 
specific developments as presented on Table 4. help to qualify this interpretation. 

Table 4. Proportions of medical students by confessional clusters with 
fathers in the lower classes or the petty bourgeoisie under the numerus 
clausus (1920-1929) 82 

University of 

University of 

University of 

University of 

Jewish men 

35,3 % 

56,4 % 

47,2 % 

53,4 % 


22,5 % 

34,1 % 

33,3 % 

39,6 % 


26,4 % 

33,3 % 

41,2 % 

43,6 % 


17,4 % 


17,1 % 


The table confirms though the systematic differences between the social 
recruitment of Jews and Christians in medical studies during the inter-war years, 
but also demonstrates the equally significant disparities between medical faculties 
of the capital city and the provinces as well as between the two genders. There 
was a relative over-representation of the upcoming Jewish lower strata in the 
medical schools even under the numerus clausus, compared to Christians. The 
lower strata among Jews formed a majority in provincial faculties and (as seen 
before) over a third of students in Budapest. This fact complies with the analysis 
above about the more severe application of the numerus clausus in the capital city, 
where membership in the Jewish upper strata could be instrumental in neutralizing 
its effects. The same less educated milieus were much less represented among 
Christian students, making one fifth only in Budapest and one third approximately 
of the provincial medical students. The fact that women in both clusters present 
much higher social profiles with much less students emanating from the lower 
classes confirms earlier findings. But the differences between Jews and non Jews 
are strongly marked in both genders at the expense of the Christians - female 
students being far less 'democratically' recruited than males in each social 
category concerned. It is quite clear that lower class candidates to the medical 
profession could in general gain much easier access to provincial universities than 

The social category concerned include manual workers of all sorts, independent craftsmen, 
shopkeepers and associated clusters (traders, restaurant and cafe owners, hoteliers) not liable of 
having much educational capital. Data from the prosopographical survey cited in note 1 . 


Victor Karady 

in Budapest. This applied both to Jews and non Jews as well as for men and 
women, but much more to Jews and for men than for Christians and women. The 
evidence of Table 4. thus suggests that Jewish medical students (there again men 
more than women) maintained their rather low social profile in the inter -war 
years, while Christians in their large majority profited essentially from the trend 
of self-reproduction of the middle classes (especially Christian women) when 
entering the Medical Faculties. 

A closer look of the regional background of medical students reveals 
another interesting difference between Jewish and Christian students under the 
numerus clausus. While a significant proportion of Christian students hailed in 
the years 1921-1929 from Transylvania, there were very few Jews coming from 
territories lost for the rump state. In Szeged not less than 33 % of Christian 
medical students were born in Transylvania, this was the case of 6,9 % of Jewish 
students only. This can be connected both to the generally lower representation of 
Jews in the University of Kolozsvar before the war, as compared to their presence 
in Budapest universities, and the lesser proclivity of Transylvanian Jews to 
emigrate after 1919. In Budapest the proportions of Transylvanian born students 
proved to be much lower - 9,3 % for Christians and 1,4 % for Jews - but the 
absolute numbers concerned much larger. (The differences were significant 
enough between Jews and Christians in this respect but less sharp in the two other 
provincial faculties.) With finer tuned statistical methods one could most probably 
find similar results via the comparison of students from other detached territories 
(like Western Slovakia), but for the moment we do not have the necessary raw 
evidence to implement such an investigation, since many county level data refer 
to territories cut across by the Trianon borders, unlike Transylvania. 

Lastly it is worth to mention a considerable development of 
'assimilationist' indices displayed by Jewish students under the numerus clausus. 
The basic facts are not easy to illustrate since evidence is rare about 'strategic 
apostasy', mixed marriages, residential mixity, education in Christian schools, etc. 
though the further elaboration of our survey data already referred to may shed 
light on such occurrences. One has already information on surname 
nationalizations. When comparing, for instance, inscriptions between the end of 
the Dual Monarchy (1912-18) and the first years of the numerus clausus (1920- 
24) the proportion of Jewish students with Hungarian surnames increased in the 
Budapest Medical faculty from 37,4 % to 45,1 %, in the Polytechnical University 
from 39,9 % to 53,5 % and in provincial medical faculties from 34,8 % to (only) 


36,8 %. Manifestly the 'assimilationist pressure' on would-be Jewish 
intellectuals was significantly less heavy in the provinces as compared to the 
capital city. But for the rest, the interpretation of these changes are far from being 
simple, in spite of appearances. Obviously enough the movement to Magyarize 
surnames was, in Hungary, a major vehicle of 'nationalization' of Hungarian 

83 Survey results, as cited in note 1 . 

84 Survey results as cited in note 1 . 

Victor Karady 

Jewry, responding to more or less explicitly compelling government policies 
exerted upon those in state employment or benefiting from connections with the 


state since the 1867 Compromise. But such pressures affected Christians of non 
Magyar stock as well. Moreover the pressures in question were not inescapable 
even in the civil service, especially for families obtaining high level public 
distinctions, like knighthood. Out of the 281 ennobled Jewish families before 
1919 some 122 actually kept their alien sounding surnames, combined as they 
could be with Magyar titles of nobility referring mostly to the location of their 
landed or industrial properties. 86 The same can be observed for Jewish students 
under the numerus clausus. A large proportion of them apparently resisted the 
temptations, pressures and the chance to exploit the symbolic and occasionally 
even material profits of surname Magyarization. One must also keep in mind that 
the Magyarization movement was a permanently developing and more and more 
publicly supported process in the last decades of the Dualist period as well as - 
though to a more limited degree - the first decade of the Christian Course after 
1919. The latter did not support through promotional policies Jewish 
Magyarizations, but did not restrict it forcibly neither (till 1938). One cannot thus 
prove that Jewish students admitted to higher studies under the numerus clausus 
were more often than earlier inclined to seek Magyarization as a strategic action 
to achieve admission to a university. They could simply belong to those 
assimilated middle classes where - since much earlier onwards -, surname 
Magyarizations was a common practice. Probably both factors played a role in the 
statistical fact that Jewish students under the numerus clausus bore more often 
than earlier Hungarian family names. 

See my book with Istvan Kozma, Csalddnev es nemzet. Nevpolitika, nevvdltoztatasi mozgalom 
es nemzetisegi eroviszonyok Magyarorszdgon a reformkortol a kommunizmusig, /Surname and 
nation. The policy of naming, the movement of surname modification and relations of ethnic 
forces in Hungary from the Vormarz till Communism/, Budapest, Osiris, 2002. 
86 Cf Magyar Zsido Lexikon /Hungarian Jewish Encyclopedia/, Budapest, 1929, 642-647. 


Robert Kerepeszki 

Robert Kerepeszki 

"The racial defense in Practice". The activity of the Turul 
Association at Hungarian universities between the two 
world wars 

7. Development and ideology of the Turul 

In Hungary, following World War I, the main basis of right radical 
movements was the youth, especially university students. This generation 
witnessed the defeat in the war, the collapse of the dual Austro-Hungarian Empire 
and the loss of Hungarian territories. Besides - under the critical social and 
economical circumstances of the country - they could not continue their studies, 
and they were unable to find employment. In addition to the huge number of the 
"soldier-students" getting home from the fronts, the situation was aggravated by 
masses of young people escaping from the lost territories. This moral collapse 
was followed by the Hungarian Soviet Republic between March and August 1919, 
which further strengthened the animosity of this generation towards the leftist 
movements and communism. In 1919/1920, these political and social 
circumstances generated the right radical mentality and orientation of university 
students, so it is not accidental that the protest against the peace treaty of Trianon, 
the influence of Jews ("the Jewish Question") and anti-communism represented a 
cohesive force among them. After the collapse of the Soviet Republic in August 
1919, this youth established several student associations which became important 
agencies for the mobilisation of the student population at Hungarian universities 
between the two World Wars. The so-called "fraternal association" was entirely 
new, without traditions, so the right radical youth might freely form the features 
of such societies. Besides, the quick development of these associations was 
mainly due to the strengthening of the so-called "Christian-national" frame of 
mind, but this was also furthered by the "vacuum" that arose in the social and 
association life of young people: the leftist or liberal university organizations (for 
example the Galilei Kor - Galilei Circle) being banned after the revolutions, and 

1 It should be noted that the circumstance were the same in the other loser countries of the World 
War, especially in Germany: in 1921, twice the number of students enrolled in the German 
universities and colleges, as the last year of peace before the war. See Jarausch, Konrad H., "The 
Crisis of German Professions 1918-1933", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 20, No. 3 
(1985), pp. 384-385.; Wehler, Hans-Ulrich, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Vol. 4. Vom 
Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieg bis zur Griindung der beiden deutschen Staaten 1914—1949. Munich 
2003. pp. 235-236., 462^-72.; Laky, Dezso, A magyar egyetemi hallgatok statisztikdja 1930 
(Statistics of the Hungarian University Students, 1930), Budapest 1931, pp. 20-21. 

Robert Kerepeszki 

the old, traditional societies (the Egyetemi Korok - University Circles ) being not 
suitable to embody the spirit of the emerging new era, as well as the interests and 
views of right extremist students. 

The first one was the Turul Szovetseg (Turul Association) established in 
August 1919, only a few days after the fall of the communist dictatorship. In the 
same year, the second fraternal student association, the Hungdria Egyesillet 
(Hungaria Society) was founded by Hungarian technicians at the Technological 
University (Miiegyetem) in Budapest, after that the short-lived Christian-socialist 
Centrum Szovetseg (Centrum Association) was called into existence in 1920. The 
next in line was the catholic and often legitimist (supporter of the Habsburg 
Dynasty) Foederatio Emericana in the next year, and the last one was the 
expressly legitimist Szent Istvdn Bajtdrsi Szovetseg (Szent Istvan Fraternal 
Association) formed in 1927. These formations had become the top student 
organizations at Hungarian universities, and though their organizational structure 
was based on the German model (Burschenschaften) and their ideological basis 
was very similar (the "Christian-national" idea, militarism, anti-Semitism and 
irredentism), their main features were different, so they were often hostile to each 
other. 4 

These officially politically neutral associations had an important place 
between the age-class societies (the Scouts or the specifically Hungarian Levente 
movement) and they were very close to the famous nationalist organizations of 
this period like the Magyar Orszdgos Vedero Egyesillet {MOVE, Hungarian 
National Defence Force Association), the Ebredo Magyarok Egyesulete (EME, 
Association of Awakening Hungarians) 5 , the Magyar Asszonyok Nemzeti 

2 Related to the traditional Hungarian student associations see Viczian, Janos, Didkelet es 
didkegyesuletek a budapesti egyetemeken 1914-1919 {Student Life and Student Associations at the 
Universities of Budapest 1914-1919), Budapest 2002. 

3 The turul was a mythological bird (falcon or vulture) in the Hungarian legends which led the 
people in the Carpathian basin. According to another myth, the turul-bird played a role in the 
origin of the Arpad Dynasty, as well. Papp, Julien, "L'oiseau turul. Du totem des anciens Magyars 
aux heritages controverses de la Seconde Guerre mondiale", in Ot Kontinens, 2009. 385-406. 

4 Related to these fraternal associations in the recent Hungarian historiography see Ujvary, Gabor, 
"Egyetemi ifjiisag es katolicizmus a neobarokk tarsadalomban. A Foederation Emericanarol" 
("University Youth and Catholicism in the Neo-baroque Society. About the Foederatio 
Emericana"), in Id., A harmincharmadik nemzedek. Politika, kultura es tortenettudomdny a 
neobarokk tarsadalomban {The thirty-third generation. Politics, Culture and Historical Science in 
the Neo-baroque Society), Budapest 2010, pp. 413-493.; Szecsenyi, Andras, "A Turul Szovetseg 
felepitese es szerepe a ket vilaghaboru kozotti ifjiisagi mozgalomban" ("The organization and role 
of Turul Association in the Interwar Youth Movement"), in Fejezetek a tegnap vildgdbol 
{Chapters from the Yesterday's World), ed. Gergely, Jeno, Budapest 2009, pp. 214-232.; 
Kerepeszki, Robert, "A Turul Szovetseg" ("The Turul Association"), in A magyar jobboldali 
hagyomdny, 1900-1948 {The Hungarian Rightist Legacy, 1900-1948), ed. Romsics, Ignac, 
Budapest 2009, pp. 341-376. 

5 The Association of Awakening Hungarians was the most notorious rightist radical organization 
in the first decade of the Horthy era. According to some sources, the university students played an 
important role in the formation of this association, as well. See Kozma, Miklos, Az osszeomlds 
1918-1919 {The Collapse 1918-1919), Budapest 1933, p. 69. 


Robert Kerepeszki 

Szovetsege (MANSZ, National Association of the Hungarian Women), as well as 
the Tdrsadalmi Egyesiiletek Szovetsege (TESZ, Federation of Social 

Among these fraternal associations of the rightist radical Hungarian 
university students, the Turul achieved the greatest impact and played the most 
significant role. Its dominance was due to many reasons. First of all, the Turul 
was not restricted by only one institution of higher education, like the Hungdria 
whose members were just the students of the Technological University in 
Budapest. Besides, because of its undenominationalism, the Turul stood opposite 
the Emericana where only Catholics might join. In contrast to legitimism, the 
members of Turul were "free electors", a point of view arising from the 
significant and well established contemporary opinion, that the "liberalism of the 
Habsburg-policy" had great responsibility for the territorial losses of Hungary 
after the World War. This current was more popular among university students 
than the Habsburg friendship within the Szent Istvan Association. In addition, the 
importance of Turul was increased by its great influence in the other university 
associations (the religious and relief organizations), because their leadership was 
in the hands of Turul-members. It follows from this that the Turul determined 
basically the public feeling at the universities and the life of youth. 

However, initially only a relatively small proportion of the university 
students joined its sub-societies, organized separately at each faculty (for 
example, in the mid- 1920s, app. 15% of the student body or some 1,400 
undergraduates). 7 The growth and expansion of Turul picked up after 1928, when 
the government of Count Istvan Bethlen modified the anti-Semitic numerus 
clausus law. Already in the next year, the association had nearly 9,000 members 
among the university students, and its 48 sub-societies operated throughout the 
country. The number of members and sub-societies rose continuously in the 
1930s (see the table), and according to some sources the Turul had more than 
40,000 members. This apparently improbably high number was due to the 
membership of the graduates, who remained in the association (they were called 
"dominus"), the supporters and many university professors (named "patronus" 

6 Related to the Interwar Hungarian social associations see Kerepeszki, Robert, "A politikai es 
tarsadalmi elet hataran. A Tarsadalmi Egyesiiletek Szovetsege a Horthy-korszakban" ("On the 
Verge of the Political and Social Life. The Federation of Social Associations in the Horthy Era), in 
" ...nem leleplezni, hanem megismerni es megerteni. " Tanulmdnyok a 60 eves Romsics Igndc 
tiszteletere ("...not to reveal, but to recognize and to understand." Studies in Honour of 60-year- 
old Igndc Romsics), eds. Gebei, Sandor, Bertenyi, Ivan Jr., Rainer M., Janos, Eger 201 1, pp. 373- 

Molnar, Olga, Afoiskolai hallgatok szocidlis es gazdasdgi viszonyai Budapesten (The Social and 
Economic Conditions of the University Students in Budapest), Budapest [1925]. 

Magyary, Zoltan, Emlekirat az egyetemi ifjusdg szocidlis gondozdsdnak megszervezese 
tdrgydban (Memorandum to the Organization of Social Care of the University Students), Budapest 
1929, p. 133. 


Robert Kerepeszki 

and "magister" by the Turul), besides the regular students (named "daru" or 
"levente"). 9 

The n umber of Tumi's sub-societies, 1929-1943. 


The number of 





















It is necessary to mention that in the Turul' s 25 -year history, there were 
some differences in time and space because of the conflict between its regional 
chapters and its national centre in Budapest, as well as the generational gap 
between the Turul 's members of 1920s and the university students of 1930s. 
Besides, it is important to note that by joining a social association or a political 
party the new member usually identifies himself with the ideology, the social and 
political views of the organization. However, it was more complex set of 
motivations that guided membership in the Turul Association. It was 
recommended for the first-year students to join the Turul,, especially for those of 
poor social background, because - following the Turul' s fundamental rules -, the 
association often provided its members in need with financial aid or loan, and its 
management helped them to obtain scholarships and accommodations in students' 

The ideology of Turul was called "fraternal idea", which consisted of 
many components among which antisemitism was only one element. The 

Erdelyi, Erno, A mi utunk. A Turul Szovetseg tortenete, iitja, celkitiizesei {Our Way. History, 
Way, Aims of the Turul Association), Pecs 1940. p. 16. 

10 Magyar Orszagos Leveltar (MOL, National Archives of Hungary), Documents of Turul 
Association, P 1364, Box 1. The Lists of the Officials and the Member Societies of the Turul 
Association (1936-1943) 

A Turul Szovetseg (...) Alapszabdlyzata (Statutes of the Turul Association) Budapest 1927, pp. 
5-20. The Tumi's sub-societies constituted regional chapters. At the end of 1930s, there were 10 
chapters with the following centres: Budapest, Debrecen, Pecs, Szeged, Kecskemet, Szolnok, 
Miskolc, Gyula, Gyor, Kaposvar. 

12 In the 1930s, the leadership of Turul published many ideological "guidelines" explaining the 
"fraternal idea" for the younger members. For example: Bevezetes a bajtdrsi eletbe (Introduction 
to the Fraternal Life), Debrecen 1934; A Turul vildgnezeti irdnyelvei es bajtdrsi utmutato (Guide- 


Robert Kerepeszki 

problem of land reform in the country, territorial revisionism (irredentism), the 
"Hungarian Imperial Idea" 13 , anti-communism - all this had important roles in 
this worldview besides hostility to legitimism. In the Turul's view, the Habsburg 
era bore great "responsibility" in particular for the assimilation and the 
"expansion" of Jewry due to the facility with which these "newcomers" could 
occupy important positions in Hungarian public life and the middle class. So, the 
most significant part of the "fraternal idea" was the "protection" of the Hungarian 
"race" from the foreigners, especially the Jews, the Slavs and the Germans. The 
latter aspect of this ideological construction is most remarkable, because although 
many Turul members would later become admirer of Nazi Germany and join the 
Hungarian National Socialist parties, but the official leadership of the 
organization often issued pronouncements against Germans in Hungary. One of 
the Turul journals wrote in all sincerity: "our race (is) menaced by two dangers: 
the Jews and the Germans", so in their view, both represented the same threat. 
Therefore, it is understandable that the Turul members happened to riot against 
German ethnic organizations (Volksbildungverein, Volksbund) and their 
politicians (Jakab Bleyer, the former minister) or their university professors 
(Richard Huss), just like they did against Jewry. 15 

In spite of this, the most important element of the Turul ideology in terms 
of "racial defense" was anti-Semitism. The anti- Jewish feelings of the Hungarian 
university students can be dated back to the age of dualism. From this point of 
view, the most significant event of this period was the so-called "Cross- 
movement". This happened in May 1900, when unknown perpetrators broke down 
the crosses from the coat of arms in the building of University of Budapest, which 
therefore had become the symbol of the movement. Jews were accused of the 
aggression and its damages, and an openly antisemitic atmosphere developed in 
the university, with a strong impact on many "Christian" students' thinking and 
worldview. This event led to an ideological polarization, which was previously 
unknown to Hungarian university students, and the so-called "Jewish question" 
was constantly on the agenda in contemporary youth organizations. Although the 

lines of the Turul Worldview and Fraternal Instructions), Budapest 1937. See also Kerepeszki, "A 
Turul Szovetseg", cit. pp. 354-369. 

13 The "Hungarian Imperial Idea" evolved in the dualist era, when its first representatives desired 
the age of Arpad Dynasty or king Matyas Hunyadi, and they wanted a great power role for 
Hungary. See in detail Bertenyi, Ivan Jr., "A magyar birodalmi gondolatrol - Az I. vilaghaboni 
elott" ("About the Hungarian Imperial Idea - Before the World War I."), in Kommentdr, No. 4 
(2007), pp. 40-56.; Romsics, Ignac, "A magyar birodalmi gondolat" ("The Hungarian Imperial 
Idea"), in Nem elhetek birodalom neikul (I may not live without an Empire), eds. Gombar, Csaba, 
Volosin, Hedi, Budapest 2002, pp. 41-81. 

14 Related to the Hungarian and European Jewry see Karady, Viktor, The Jews of Europe in the 
Modern Era. A Sociohistorical outline, New York-Budapest 2004. 

15 MOL, Ministry for Home Affairs, Reserved Documents (K 149), no. 1942-7-6006. Report of 
the Police Office of Pecs about the regional German ethnic movements and the extreme -right 
parties. Pecs, September 5, 1942.; About the German ethnic organizations see Spannenberger, 
Norbert, A magyarorszdgi Volksbund. Berlin es Budapest kozott (The Volksbund of Hungary. 
Between Berlin and Budapest), Budapest 2005. 

Robert Kerepeszki 

"Cross-movement" was short-lived, its aftermath is undeniable for long. Many of 
the leading politicians of the Horthy era began their public activity in this anti- 
Jewish action (for example, Laszlo Magashazy, Regent Horthy' s aide-de-camp 
and Nandor Bernolak, the Minister of Labour and Welfare of Bethlen- 
government, who proposed the racist paragraph of the numerus clausus law in 
1920). 16 

The most dangerous enemies for Turul were the Jews and this evolved also 
from the widespread antisemitic conception that the Jews were responsible for the 
Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919 - as well as, by the way, the loss of the war 

1 7 

(Dolchschuss legend). Besides, in the 1920s, the policy of "racial defense" (due 
among others to Gyula Gombos) and studies produced in the same vein by the 
founder of Hungarian eugenics, Lajos Mehely, made a powerful impression on the 

1 o 

formation of the "fraternal idea". So it is not surprising that the numerus clausus 
was one of the most important questions raised by the Turul, because this law 
affected the very area in which the association was operating, the Hungarian 

//. The numerus clausus and the student riots 

The Hungarian scientific literature has shown that the history of Turul and 
the numerus clausus were inseparably intertwined. The beginning was that the 
right radical youth founded veritable security forces (so-called "university 
battalions") besides the fraternal associations as early as August 1919. 19 The 
membership of these two types of organization was almost the same, they 
complemented each other's activity which resulted in the so-called "semester 
without Jews" in the second half of 1919. In these weeks, the university battalions 
set up "certifying committees" in the institutions of higher education. Their 
permission was necessary for enrolment, so they could use their quasi official 
competences against Jewish, leftist and all other students who were not 
sympathizing with the emerging new "Christian-national" system. Besides, 
members of Turul Association and university battalions were eager to organize 

Szabo, Miklos, Az ujkonzervativizmus es a jobboldal radikalizmus tortenete 1867—1918 {The 
History of Neo-conservatism and Rightist Radicalism 1867-1918), Budapest 2003, pp. 184-213., 
265-270.; Kornai, Istvan, "Magyar ifjusagi mozgalmak 1849-1919" (Hungarian Youth 
Movements 1849-1919), in ,,Werboczy" Evkonyv 1928 {"Werboczy" Almanac 1928), ed. 
Lendvay, Bela. Budapest 1928, pp. 7-11. 

Gyurgyak, Janos, A zsidokerdes Magyarorszdgon {The Jewish Question in Hungary), Budapest 
2001, pp. 102-109. 

18 Ibid., pp. 387-397. 

19 The university battalions were officially disbanded by the Bethlen-government in 1921. 
Egyetemi zdszloaljak {University Battalions), compiled and published by Der, Vilmos, Budapest 
1938.; Igaly, Bela, Egy miiegyetemi zdszloaljtag naploja 1919—1921 {Diary of a Member of the 
Battalion at the Polytechnical University 1919—1921), Budapest 1942.; Ladanyi, Andor, Az 
egyetemi ifjusag az ellenforradalom elso eveiben 1919—1921 {The University Students in the First 
Years of Counterrevolution 1919-1921), Budapest 1979, pp. 73-93. 


Robert Kerepeszki 

demonstrations against Jews and busy to beat up Jewish students whenever there 
was an occasion at the universities during 1919/20. 20 With these actions, they 
wanted to exert pressure on the political elite to legalise an anti-Jewish paragraph 
in the new admission system of universities. 

Initially, after the adoption of numerus clausus, the Turul Association and 
the battalions did their bit in making the law observed, because they thought that 
the university leadership had not taken it rigorously enough. On October 14, 1920, 
Jeno Farkass, the leader of Turul wrote an extensive editorial in the Szozat, the 
newspaper of "racial defenders". According to him and the "Christian-national" 
youth, the numerus clausus had not been applied consistently, and demanded that 

9 1 

the right radical students should control again university enrolments. Even on 
the same day, Sandor Toros, one of the founders of Turul, led a delegation to 
Istvan Haller, the Minister of Religion and Public Instruction to present him 
directly the views of the organizations. Then, the Turul members wanted the 
numerus clausus to be extended to all higher educational institution in the 
country. Haller held justifiable the demands of the youth, and promised to take 


measures for their implementation. Although atrocities of "racial defence" 
occurred in the universities during the first half of 1920s, still student life 
continued more peacefully afterwards. 

However, there was an increase in the mid- 1920s of antisemitic 
turbulences in higher education was, because the government of Count Istvan 
Bethlen wanted to modify the numerus clausus. This was mainly due to 
international protests (initiated especially by the British journalist, Lucien Wolf) 
against the original law in the League of Nations , but also to the fact that the 
legislation did not really work in its original form, and it certainly did not help 
children of the "Christian" middle class to finding employment. 

Of course, after the government revealed its plans, the Turul protested 
immediately against the amendment. In February 1928, when the Hungarian 
Parliament started to discuss the new numerus clausus law without the antisemitic 
paragraph, the sub-societies of Turul organized demonstrations in the universities 
for the observance of the original law, therefore, the institutions had to be closed 
for several days. The incidents resumed seriously in October 1928, when the 

20 "A foiskolai ifjiisag tiintetese" ("The Demonstration of University Youth"), in Nemzeti Ujsdg 
(National Journal), March 3, 1920. 

21 Farkass, Jeno, "Az egyetemi kerdes" ("The University Question"), in Szozat, October 14, 1920. 
12 "Haller miniszter teljesitette a foiskolai ifjiisag kivanalmait" ("Minister Haller Fulfilled the 
Requirements of University Youth"), in Szozat, October 15, 1920. 

23 For example, in 1923, Lucien Wolf expressly declared in one of his reports to the Directors of 
the Jewish Colonization Association that the numerus clausus in Hungary had an impact on the 
surrounding countries, and it strengthened antisemitic attitudes in Eastern and Central Europe. 
Wolf, Lucien, Russo-Jewish Refugees in Eastern Europe. Report on the Fourth Meeting of the 
Advisory Committee of the High Commissioner for Russian Refugees of the League of Nations, 
London 1923, pp. 15-16.; see also Mazower, Mark, "Minorities and the League of Nations in 
Interwar Europe", in Daedalus, Vol. 126, No. 2 (1997), pp. 47-63. 

Robert Kerepeszki 

modified Act entered into force. Jewish students were checked and beaten by 
Turul members who almost every day demonstrated against the Bethlen 
government. Their leader, Gyorgy Bansaghy even called on the Minister of 
Religion and Public Education, Count Kuno Klebelsberg to resign, because he 
was the one to have drafted the new legislation, and the emotions often broke out 
from the universities to the streets. The most interesting aspect of these 
demonstrations was that according to the Tumi's view, the proportion of Jewish 
students was much higher in some faculties (especially in provincial universities), 
as listed in the official statistics. The Turulist university students made namely 
their own counting of the number of their Jewish classmates. Although members 
of the association considered the numerus clausus extremely important, but they 
thought that the law was a mistake because it did not concern baptized Jews, so by 
including them too, the Turul tried to compile relevant data of its own. 

There is no doubt that the amendment of the numerus clausus law opened 
a new era in the life of Turul. After 1928, the antisemitic student demonstrations 
and brawls became inseparably from its everyday activitis, the intensity of which 
being amplified by the existential hopelessness deepening because of the Great 
Depression in the meantime. Anti- Jewish actions and incidents were staged thus 
in the same way in every university town (Budapest, Debrecen, Pecs, and 
Szeged). At the beginning of the academic year, the "Christian" students 
prevented the Jews to enter in university buildings or the classrooms. They 
organized demonstrations in the streets, and held great assemblies where they 
accepted memorandums to demand the restoration of the original numerus clausus 
scheme or the aggravation of anti- Jewish restrictions, going as fars as the numerus 
nullus (total admission ban for Jews) and - in the end of 1930s - even the 
stigmatisation of their Jewish classmates with yellow stars. During the incidents, 
the Jewish students were systematically aggressed in a well organised way: from 
their own faculty, the Turul members went to an other university building to act. 
For example, the Turulist law students "visited" the Faculty of Arts and attacked 
Jews there, so that they could not be recognized as aggressors. A most serious 
aspect of these attacks was that Jewish women were similarly assaulted than men. 
However, the antisemitic student demonstrations were motivated not exclusively 
by demands relating to the numerus clausus, but also due public appearances of 
Jewish personalities, like for example in 1937, after the first performance of the 

24 "Hungary Closes 4 Colleges in Riots", in New York Times, October 24, 1928. 

25 Kerepeszki, Robert, "A numerus clausus 1928. evi modositasanak hatasa Debrecenben" ("The 
Effect of 1928 Amendment of numerus clausus in Debrecen"), in Multunk, No. 4 (2005), pp. 42- 

26 The international scientific literature has also reported about some aspects of the Hungarian 
student riots. For example Klein, Bernard, "Anti-Jewish Demonstrations in Hungarian 
Universities, 1932-1936. Istvan Bethlen vs. Gyula Gombos", in Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 44, 
No. 2 (1982), pp. 113-124. 

27 MOL, K 149, No. 1933—4-9121. Report of the Police Office about the Student Movements. 
Szeged, December 4, 1933.; Ladanyi, Andor, "A numerus clausustbl a numerus nullusig" ("From 
the numerus clausus to the Numerus Nullus"), in Mult es Jovo, No. 1 . (2006), pp. 56-74. 


Robert Kerepeszki 

Lovagias ugy movie {Chivalrous Case) starring the famous Jewish actor, Gyula 
Kabos. 28 

Of course, the universities were frequently closed down for shorter or 
longer time due to these incidents, so the classes had to be cancelled. The 
university councils and the Ministry of Religion and Public Instruction promised 
harsh penalties to participants and organizers of demonstrations. However, the 
official investigations of the authorities ended with few results, and when they 
were successful, so the verdicts were usually mild (amounting sometimes merely 
to the exclusion of influential participants from the university for one or two 

Besides the restoration or the aggravation of numerus clausus, the Turul's 
other important and permanent claim was the abolition of so-called 
"nostrification" (naturalization and validation of diplomas obtained abroad). This 
was resorted to by Jewish students who had completed their studies at a foreign 
university because of the Act in force. However, when these young Jewish 
graduates returned home and succeeded to have their diplomas validated, these 
academic credentials turned out to be more competitive in the labour market than 
the Hungarian ones. The Turul press did not fail to inveigh against them and to 


suggest that the Jews had come off well with the numerus clausus. 

It is necessary to mention that the role of Turul leaders in such student 
demonstrations was not always entirely clear, because it happened several times 

-5 1 

that they forbade members to participate in the incidents. The foreign press has 
also reported about such occurrences.: "On November 21, 1935, anti- Jewish 
students at the Budapest University demonstrated and 32 of them were arrested 
and fined. The Ministers of Education and of the Interior issued statements 
deploring the incident. The president of the Turul Academic Union, whose 
members were reported to have taken part in the outbreak, declared that 
irresponsible elements had made use of the group's name to mobilize students. He 

28 Szecsenyi, Andras, "Lovagias ugy. Epizod az antiszemitizmus tortenetehez az 1930-as evekben" 
("Chivalrous Case. Episode in the history of Anti-Semitism in 1930s"), in Mult es Jovo, No. 1. 
(2009), pp. 133-138. 

29 Kerepeszki, Robert, "A zsidokerdes es az egyetemi bajtarsi egyesuletek a ket vilaghaboni 
kozotti Magyarorszagon" ("The Jewish Question and the University Fraternal Associations in 
Interwar Hungary"), in Tradicio es modernizdcio Europdban a XVIII-XX. szdzadban {Tradition 
and Modernization in Europe in the 18' —20' Century), eds. Bodnar, Erzsebet, Gabor, Demeter, 
Budapest 2008, pp. 224-237. 

30 "A nosztrifikansok" ("The Nostrificants"), in Uj Vetes, April 18, 1933. 

31 For example the leader of Turul in Debrecen, Nandor Liszt who published his command in the 
local press in 1932. This is especially interesting in light of Liszt's membership in the local 
organization of Awakening Hungarians. A year later, in autumn 1933, the Turul leadership in 
Debrecen repeated this order. At the same time, according to a police report, the fraternal 
associations in Szeged also wanted to keep away their members from the demonstrations. MOL, 
Hungarian News Agency, "Lithographic" Daily News, K 428, Series A, November 15, 1933.; 
MOL, K 149, No. 1933—4—9121. Report of the Police Office about the Student Movements. 
Szeged, November 29, 1933. "A Turul vezerseg hatarozata" ("The Order of the Turul leadership"), 
in Debreceni Ujsdg Hajdufold, November 18, 1932. 

Robert Kerepeszki 


declared that the Turul Union was against illegal measures." Since some of the 
Turulist students noticeably did not obey the orders, it seemed as if the protests 
had slipped out of Turul leaders' control. The archival sources indicate that the 
Hungarian National Socialist (so-called "Arrow-Cross") parties often provoked 
these incidents, and many Turul members joined these movements of the extreme 
right. However, the majority of the Turul leadership actually opposed the 
National Socialists and their influence. 

The issues raised in the university students' demonstrations clearly showed 
that the numerus clausus had played a crucial role in the thinking of the right 
radical youth in inter-war Hungary. During the era, a veritable "cult" was formed 
around the law, not least because numerus clausus had also appeared in the 
Turul's literature. The first editor of the association's central journal (Bajtdrs), 
Istvan Eszterhas published his book titled A gebic. Regeny a numerusz klauzusz 
mellol (The Shrike. Novel from beside the numerus clausus) in 1928, in the year of 
the Act's amendment. The novel has not much literary value, and, curiously 
enough, that the Act was mentioned only once in the story which is about the 
rivalry of a "Christian comrade" and a Jewish young man for a job, and eventually 
it almost ends up in tragedy. The author only alluded to the antisemitic student 
movements, and he primarily wanted to present the fraternal way of life and its 
difficulties (especially the existential problems involved). The readers of 
Eszterhas 's novel were mostly Turul members, but it is assumed that his primary 
intention was to explain the motivations of fraternal associations to the larger 
public and to influence thus political decision makers. It is indeed probably not 
just a coincidence that the book was published in the year of amendment . Besides 
the novel, the "cult" of the numerus clausus is identifiable in the way the Act was 
labeled in the Turul press and in its memorandums, because it was considered the 
"fairest of Hungarian laws" or the "law of the Hungarian youth", which the 
rightist radical association always wanted to protect and enforce, as well as they 
struggled for its "consistent implementation". 

The factors described in connection with the numerus clausus and the 
demonstrations provide important cues to understand what the Act meant to the 
right radical student movements as a representative issue of sorts related to the 
"spirit of the age". 

' 2 Schneiderman, Harry, "Review of the Year 5696", in The American Jewish Year Book 5697. 
September 17, 1936 to September 5, 1937, ed. Schneiderman, Harry. Vol. 38. (1936-1937), 
Philadelphia 1936. p. 281. 

33 MOL, K 149, No. 1933-7-2590. Police report about the activity of National Socialist Hungarian 
Labour Party. Debrecen, June 25, 1932.; MOL, K 149, No. 1937-6^1007. Report of Lord 
Lieutenant. Sopron, January 8, 1937. 

34 MOL, P 1364, Box 1. Minutes of Turul National Assembly. Miskolc, November 5-9, 1936. 

35 "Hare a magyar ertelmiseg vedelmere" ("Fight to protect the Hungarian intelligentsia", in 
Bajtdrs, December, 1932. pp. 11-19. 

36 MOL, P 1364, Box 1. Minutes of Turul National Assembly. Miskolc, November 5-9, 1936. 


Robert Kerepeszki 

III. International contexts 

As we mentioned above, in spite of conflicts among them, some common 
features united the Hungarian fraternal associations and one of them was the 
impact of foreign patterns in their organizational structure. For the Turul the most 
important models were the traditional German student associations, the 
Burschenschaften, but we it referred to other German parallels as well. 
Similarities can be observed between the Hungarian fraternal associations and the 
university organization of the German Nazi party {Nationalsozialistischer 
Deutscher Studentenbund, NSDStB), especially due to their strongly militarist and 
antisemitic character. However, resemblances can also be discovered with other 
European youth organizations, for example the French Jeunesses Patriotes 
(Patriotic Youth), the Spanish Sindicato Espahol Universitario (Spanish 
University Association) or the Romanian Asociatia Studentilor Crestini 
(Association of the Christian College Students). The latter served as one of the 
important antecedents for and created a basis of the extreme right movement, the 


Gar da defier (Iron Guard). 

In spite of the model role of the Burschenschaften, the Turul and its sub- 
societies were primarily not looking for a relationship with the German student 
organizations, but rather with the university "groups" of the Italian Fascist Party, 
the Gruppi Universitari Fascisti (GUF). This is by no means a coincidence, since 
the foreign policy of the so-called "Weimar Republic" was more peaceful and 
oriented towards Western democracies than in Italy, which was directly 
dissatisfied with the peace treaties of Versailles. Thus the fascist state became the 
primary partner for the Hungarian political elites and, consequently, for the 
Hungarian rightist student movement, as well. This was especially true after 1927, 
when closer political relations started to develop between the two countries 
following Prime Minister Bethlen's negotiations in Rome. The rapprochement 
was mutual, which was evidenced by the fact that the GUF had an official 

37 The NSDStB was founded in 1926, and its first leader was Wilhelm Tempel. Its importance 
increased after 1931 when Baldur von Schirach was appointed Reich Youth Leader of the 
organization. About the NSDStB see Griittner, Michael, "German Universities Under the 
Swastika", in Universities Under Dictatorship, eds. Connelly, John, Griittner, Michael, 
Pennsylvania 2005, pp. 75-1 12. 

38 In relation with these associations see Soucy, Robert, "Centrist Fascism. The Jeunesses 
Patriotes", in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 16, No. 2 (1981), pp. 349-368.; Passmore, 
Kevin, From Liberalism to Fascism. The Right in a French Province 1928—1939, Cambridge 
1997, pp. 152-153, 213-226.; Kalman, Samuel, The Extreme Right in Interwar France. The 
Faisceau and the Croix de Feu, Aldershot 2008, pp. 145-184.; Carnicer, Miguel Angel Ruiz, 
"Spanish Universities Under Franco", in Universities Under Dictatorship, eds. Connelly, John, 
Griittner, Michael, Pennsylvania 2005, pp. 113-138.; Vago, Raphael, "Eastern Europe", in The 
Social Basis of European Fascist Movements, ed. Mvihlberger, Detlef, Kent 1987, 281-319.; 
loanid, Radu, "Nicolae lorga and Fascism", in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 27, No. 3 
(1992), pp. 467^92. 

Robert Kerepeszki 

representative in Hungary, and the leaders of Italian and Hungarian student 
associations often visited each other. 39 

Besides ideological and formal resemblances , some differences are also 
worth to be mentioned between the Turul and the Italian GUF, as well as the 
German NSDStB. Primarily, in the Italian and German totalitarian dictatorships, 
the dominant Fascist and Nazi state parties established university student 
associations of their own, which helped to maintain their power over the youth 
and the higher education. However, Turul had never become a part or a "satellite" 
of any political party, although, similarly to the totalitarian systems, the leaders of 
the Hungarian rightist establishment considered it important to win the youth and 
control its ideological education. 

It is important to emphasize that antisemitic student demonstrations in 
universities were not only Hungarian events in the inter-war years. The 
contemporary press reported about such atrocities in Eastern and Central Europe 
almost every month. For example, in December 1929, the New York Times 
published a long report and analysis about the anti-Semite incidents in the 
university of Prague, connecting the events with the general dissatisfaction. The 
main issue of other European demonstrations was often same as in Hungary, 
notably the demand for numerus clausus against Jews. The atmosphere of these 
days was terrible and awesome for Jewish students in several countries. Let's see 
how relevant Polish incidents were described in a Canadian newspaper in 
November, 1935: "Hardly a day passes without reports of Jews being assaulted in 
the streets, Jewish students being attacked in their universities and Jewish shop 
windows smashed. On top of this violence the Jewish population is also 
confronted with a rapidly growing anti- Jewish boycott. (...) Refusal of the 
authorities to grant the anti-Semites' demand that Jewish students in the Warsaw 
Polytechnique Institute be segregated led to a riot during which nationalist 
students threw Jewish students out of windows. (...) More than a score of the anti- 
Semites were arrested." 43 

It can also be highlighted that the Hungarian demonstrations had also 
external influences, which caused problems for the government working on the 
revision of Trianon and trying to gain the sympathy of foreign powers. Many 
politicians (especially the liberal, social-democratic and conservative members of 
the opposition) also pointed out in Parliament that these events severely damaged 

39 For example, in December 1929, Mussolini received the Turul leaders in audience. "Mussolini's 
Message", in Bajtdrs, January, 1930, pp. 7-8. 

40 An outward similarity consisted in clothing (for example, wearing the service cap), which was 
completely taken over from Germany. In the 1930s, the Turul leaders replaced the German service 
cap for the Hungarian "Bocskai cap" emphasizing their organization's national character. 

41 Fascism, ed. Griffin, Roger, Oxford 1995, pp. 61-62, 67-68, 148-149. 

42 "Anti-Semitism Laid to Poultry Abroad", in New York Times, December 22, 1929. 

43 "Polish Jewry Fears Pogroms as Anti-Semite Riots Sweep Country", in The Canadian Jewish 
Chronicle, November 22, 1935. 


Robert Kerepeszki 

the reputation of Hungary abroad. However, in spite of their complaints, these 
incidents of "racial defence" staged by right radical students repeated themselves 
almost every year, even after the the introduction of the first properly anti-Jewish 
laws from 1938 onwards. Antisemitic student demonstrations were specific 
phenomena of the era. 

IV. Summary 

It is not to be disputed that Turul members kept antisemitism alive in 
contemporary public opinion with their demonstrations for the numerus clausus 
and other anti- Jewish restrictions. These incidents affected not only the general 
atmosphere at universities, but the whole public life, too, and this was the reason 
why the leftist political establishment after 1945 tried to present the Turul as a 
properly "fascist" and national socialist organization. Obviously enough 
antisemitism was an essential ingredient of the dominant contemporary public 
discourse, a leading idea of the so-called "Christian-national" establishment 
taking power after the revolutions in 1918/19. This anti -Jewish mood was 
strengthened by the negative impact of the Great Depression, and almost every 
significant protagonist of the 'Christian Course' shared this view with more or 
less radicalism and aggressiveness. The Turul remained relentless and consistent 
as to this question. 45 

Though Turul cannot be regarded as a "satellite" of political parties or 
movements, however, it is not to be disputed that Turul members actually joined 
several political parties of the right or the extreme right. As a social and university 
organization, the Turul tried nevertheless to maintain its independence, 
consequently it often got involved into ambivalent connections with rightist 
political parties. From this point of view, the most interesting is its opposition to 
the Hungarian Arrow-Cross movements. This also proves the anti-German bias of 
the Turul. The association rejected the Arrow-Cross ideology owing to the latter's 
obedient relations with Nazi Germany. 

44 The importance of this problem for the Hungarian political elite is clear from the article 
published in the semi-official newspaper of Hungarian government about the antisemitic student 
demonstrations. Its apologetic tone and content show how the Hungarian governing elite tried to 
minimize the effects and consequences before the international public opinion. "Zu den 
antisemitischen Studentenkrawallen" , in Pester Lloyd, November 23, 1932. 

45 It is important to emphasize this because of the connections with Gyula Gombos, who took a 
position of leadership in the early period of racist movements in the country, in the 1920s, but 
when he became the prime minister of Hungary in 1932, he publicly "revised" his point of view. 
Dividing Jews into two groups, he thought that there were also "good" Jews, who accepted the 
community of fate with the nation. The Turul did not want to categorize Jews in this way, thus a 
significant part of its membership withdrew its support from Gombos, who proclaimed in vain that 
he was the "protagonist of the same world view". This is how it could occur that during the 
demonstrations in 1933, the students hollered slogans against Prime Minister Gombos as well. 
MOL, K 149, No. 1933-4-9121. Police Report to the Ministry for Home Affaires about the youth 
movements. Budapest, November 27, 1933. 

Robert Kerepeszki 

The association's unquestionable purpose and function was to make the 
young intelligentsia loyal to the "Christian-national" Horthy Regime and form 
their worldview in conformity with its very militarist, irredentist and racist 
ideology. Its political orientation was defined and formed by some young people, 
who were not qualified political ideologists, but the social and political 
circumstances of Hungary embittered them after their military experiences in the 
World War I, so as to develop a need for 'a new guiding spirit' in the country. The 
Turul Association was formed immediately after the collapse of the Hungarian 
Soviet Republic, and officially dissolved in 1945. It was suppressed by the Interim 
National Government together with many former right extremist political parties 
and associations. It is the "irony of the fate" that the association was motivated by 
the reactions to the lost World War in 1919, and disappeared from the Hungarian 
society and universities by another lost World War in 1945. The Turul subsisted 
throughout the Horthy era and eptomized in a way the ruling public mentality and 
political atmosphere of Interwar Hungary. 


Part II. 

Around the numerus clausus in Central-Europe 

Katalin Fenyves 

Katalin Fenyves 

A successful battle for symbolic space: the numerus 
clausus law in Hungary 

Hungary was the first country after WWI to curtail the civil rights of Jews 
by introducing a quota on their number in higher education. Although, primarily 
directed against the Jews, these restrictions also concerned those women who 
wanted to enter higher education, as women were not mentioned explicitly by the 
law, yet their applications could be denied solely at the discretion of the boards of 
the universities. Consequently, in the beginning of the 1920s a severe numerus 
nullus policy prevailed at the Budapest medical school and the proportion of 
female students plummeted in several other institutions, as well. In this paper, I 
will argue that the numerus clausus law and other regulations restricting the 
access of Jews and women to higher education had a highly symbolic value in as 
much as they were to exclude the epitomical "Other", that is, both Jew and 
Woman, from public spaces. Even if, in the medium term their efficiency may be 
a matter of debate, in the long term, I would argue, their success is beyond doubt. 
It is due to these measures that Hungary was able to establish the hegemony of 
Christian nationalist males and achieve a certain degree of modernization without 
emancipation in the interwar period. 

Beliefs and fears concerning Jews and women at the turn of the 

For many conservatives and even numerous liberals the physical, mental 
and moral inferiority of Jews and women became a shared assumption in fin-de- 
siecle Europe, especially in German speaking areas and in Hungary. (Volkov 
2006, Planert 1998) Bringing together wide-spread ideas about femininity and 
Jewishness, Otto Weininger, a young Viennese Jew succeeded in creating an 
"associative merger" in his book, Geschlecht und Charakter published in 1903. 
For him, the struggle against women and the struggle against Jews were two sides 
of the same coin. In the first, larger part of his book based on his doctoral thesis, 
he brought together and surveyed contemporary antifeminist theories, including 
medical and psychological ones. Only in the last three chapters, which was not 
part of his original doctoral thesis, did he make an associative link between the 
inferiority of the two eternal "Others", Jew and Woman. According to the vision 
of Weininger and his followers, both "Jew" and "Woman" show a lack of 
creativity, of intellectual and physical strength. As both women and Jews were 
generally viewed as pacifists and cosmopolites, Weininger characterized them as 
selfish and unable to comprehend such transcendental ideas as "state" and 
"nation". Hence, according to Weininger, Jews and women must also lack any 


Katalin Fenyves 

loyalty towards the nation. These pseudo-scientifically underpinned beliefs were 
perfectly able to produce new sexist and anti-Semitic ideas and reinforce age old 
fears. After 1867, in Hungary under a liberal government, similar beliefs were the 
basis of both a "glass ceiling" for Jews who wished to work in public offices, and 
for women who were completely excluded from higher education until 1895. 

The visibility of Jews and women in the Hungarian dualist era 

The fast growing visibility of Jews and women, especially in places like 
higher education where they were never expected to appear, only made sexist and 
anti-Semitic beliefs and fears worsen around the turn of the century. The number 
of Jews was high in urban spaces, especially in bigger towns and cities - above all 
in Budapest - and they were often highly concentrated in specific neighborhoods. 
While the urban population of Hungary made up only 20.4 percent of the overall 
population in 1910, more than the half, 50.9 percent of Jews (of the total number 
of 911,227) lived in urban centers, making up 1/8 of the total number of city 
population. (Kovacs 1922) At the same time, Jews started to appear in such 
segments of society, which were preserved exclusively for Christian men and 
from where Jews had been completely absent before, like in such liberal 
professions as lawyers, scientists, journalists, comedians and artists, and even in 
politics, in the Lower and Upper House. 

For the second half of the 19 th century, women, similarly to Jews, suddenly 
seemed to be everywhere. In the years following the Compromise of 1867, due to 
waves of emigration, the proportion of women compared to the number of men 
increased first to 1020/1000 in the 1870s, then to 1035/1000 in the 1880s. Even 
though at the beginning of the 20 l century this proportion became more balanced 
(1005/1000 in 1900, 1007/1000 in 1910), the war propelled the number of women 
to 1062/1000 by 1920. (Polonyi 2002, 31) From the late 19 th century the marriage 
rate decreased and the legalization of divorce in 1895 also contributed to the 
growing percentage of unmarried women resulting in that by 1900 more then one 
third of Hungarian women over the age of 14 were unmarried. Since most of these 
women had to take care of themselves on their own, between 1890 and 1900, the 
number of female earners sharply increased and made up 14 percent of the total 
number of wage earners. (Keri 2008) Hence, women, like Jews did, appeared in 
social spaces, from where they were completely excluded before. They showed up 
in coffee houses, refusing to be relegated to the back rooms and sitting wherever 
they pleased, in the streets, demonstrating for their civil rights or simply running 
errands, on the benches of universities and finally in such professions as teachers, 
medical doctors, journalists and artists. While women stood out literally because 
of their attires of fashionable huge hats and long skirts, acculturated Jews, even 
though they were dressed like everyone else, were recognizable by their German 
sounding or conspicuously Magyarized [Hungarianized] names. 

Katalin Fenyves 

From marginalized groups to cultural threats 

Having been legally emancipated in the year of the Austro -Hungarian 
Compromise of 1867, Hungarian Jews underwent a tremendous geographical and 
social mobility. Although Jews were hampered by a glass ceiling and were 
underrepresented in some sectors of public service, they occupied very important 
economical positions as bankers, industrialists, landowners and leasers of landed 
estates. The medical profession was one of those associated with Jews for 
centuries. In Hungary the first Jewish medical doctor having graduated in higher 
education started his career in 1782 and was followed by several others. For the 
beginning of the 20 century Jewish doctors constituted nearly half of the whole 
medical body. Common people had to get used to dealing with Jewish doctors as 
well as with Jewish lawyers, whether they liked it or not. Even though Jewish 
lawyers had to fight bitterly to obtain their license even in the 1860s, for the end 
of the century Jewish lawyers made up around 34% of the professional body. 
From 1900, there was an ongoing discussion concerning the introduction of a 
numerus clausus for lawyers, especially for those "mercantile" lawyers, who were 
considered to be all Jewish by the public. (N. Szegvari 1988, 70) Legal experts of 
Jewish descent played a major role in the codification of criminal and civil law 
and in the creation of Hungarian legal language, while, more generally, Jewish 
professionals, including medical doctors, economists, philosophers, all of whom 
had grown up in bilingual family and were often active translators, participated in 
the elaboration of the language of different sciences and in economic or industrial 

The visibility of Jews was even higher in different sectors of culture, such 
as the press, publishing, theatre, cinema or the arts, even though the journalists, 
editors, actors, directors, painters and sculptors of Jewish descent who 
participated in the great cultural buzz of the turn of the century did not see 
themselves as Jews, but as true Hungarians. A number of them joined 
contemporary artistic and intellectual trends of the time and strived to contribute 
to the renewal of Hungarian art and intellectual life considered largely worn out 
by the late 19 l century. Although not all Jewish artists and intellectuals advocated 
modernity, since as everywhere else in Europe the members of the modernist 
avant-garde were only a handful, having lined up behind Endre Ady, the most 
talented and at the same time the most controversial non- Jewish Hungarian poet 
of his time, this small group of modernist Jewish artists and intellectuals found 
themselves at the forefront of the quarrel between Ancients and Moderns at the 
turn of the century. The first modernist literary weekly, A Het (The Week) was 
founded in 1890 by Jozsef Kiss, a Jewish-Hungarian poet, who belonged to a 
generation for which religion was still important, and who exhibited a double, 
Jewish and Hungarian identity, yet his journal was far from being denominational. 
For about 20 years A Het was home to all modernist literary figures and ideas, 
regardless of their religion producing an almost equal proportion of Jewish and 
non- Jewish contribution (though with a slight Jewish dominance). The younger 


Katalin Fenyves 

editors of A Het decided to publish a new literary review even more up to date, 
which was to become the flagship of Hungarian literary modernism. This review 
was an answer to contemporary ideological attempts trying to situate Hungary and 
to anchor its national identity in a mythical Orient. In 1908, the editors of this new 
review proclaimed their orientation by calling their monthly literary review 
Nyugat (Occident), hence the journal was born, the very name of which has 
become a synonym for quality in the Hungarian literary canon. 

Similar stories could be told about Hungarian modernity in the fine arts, 
where plein air and later expressionist and cubist painting was taken up and 
represented by numerous Jewish as well as non- Jewish Hungarian artists. There is 
no need to emphasize the importance of Jewish owners, actors and directors in 
cinema and theatre, or in publishing and music. What is most important, however, 
to stress again is that - except the Zionists, a marginal minority organized in 
Hungary from 1897 -, not even religious Jews participating in Hungarian cultural 
life identified themselves as ethnic Jews. At the turn of the century there was no 
separate Hungarian speaking Jewish subculture, and until the creation of the first 
Zionist review Mult es Jovo (Past and Future) in 1911 there was no publicly 
articulated intention to create a specific modern Jewish culture in Hungary either. 
Even denominational publications emphasized in general the strong Hungarian 
identification of their contributors and of the Hungarian Jews and regarded 
themselves programmatically as Jewish Hungarians. It is another question, 
beyond the scope of this study, how much the Jewish members of the public, 
especially collectors and patrons of art developed their cultural affinities 
according to what they considered to be proper for members of the "Besitz- und 
Bildungs burger turn" ', that is, how much their artistic tastes were meant to be 
proofs of their cultural assimilation. 

All efforts of Hungarian Jews for proving the success of their assimilation 
failed considering the reactions of some of their contemporaries and the works of 
a small number of present scholars (Gyurgyak 2001, 18, Kerekes 2005, 83-94). 
From as early as 1911, the "Jewish" press in general, as well as the Nyugat in 
particular, was under constant ferocious attack because of their supposed use of 
"impure" Hungarian language. According to the adversaries of Jewish press, 
including Janos Horvath, the most distinguished literary critic of the time, the 
collaborators of these journals and especially Nyugat mutilated the Hungarian 
language with their style "reeking of asphalt". In the eyes of their opponents, 
modern literature, theatres and movies were hotbeds of immorality, extreme 
eroticism and decadence, hence completely alien to Hungarian soul, that is, 
Jewish. It goes without saying that conservative and nationalist artistic 
productions, often verging on or being plain kitsch especially in popular culture, 
were just as often created and financed by Jewish owned institutions and 
consumed by a large Jewish public as by non- Jewish Hungarians. However, non- 
Jewish Hungarian public opinion was unwavering about Jews in culture as for 
instance the painter Aladar Korosfoi Kriesch, leader of the Hungarian followers of 
Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites stated in 1917: "In culture Jews do not create, 

Katalin Fenyves 

only convey diverse foreign ideas." A women writer and philosopher, Emma 
Ritook, erstwhile friend to Georg Lukacs, Bela Balazs and Ernst Bloch, also said 
on the same occasion, answering an inquiry about the "Jewish question" for the 
sociological review Huszadik Szdzad (Twentieth Century): "The language of 
Jews is un-Hungarian, and they write about characters that have nothing in 
common with Hungarians." (Kerekes 2005,180.) Even if we don't consider these 
opinions as proofs of a "failed assimilation", they still indicate a 
misunderstanding. Intellectuals of Jewish descent, who were mostly rather secular 
and often converts, strived to embrace modern culture, a modern lifestyle, and 
modern ethics, including free love, planned childbirth and divorce, yet by doing 
so they only managed to move away from the conservative mainstream of 
Hungarian society. Their influence, however, in all sectors of cultural life was 
indubitable and their presence was perceived as threatening often due to their 
sheer number in some specific spaces long before the revolutions following WWI. 
Women, by contrast to Jews, did not have all civil rights before 1918 in 
Hungary. Even though women constituted - as we have seen - a steady, albeit 
varyingly strong majority in the population from the very beginning of the dualist 
era, they were marginalized in public life. Many women had to work out of 
necessity. Nearly two-third of economically active women were unmarried, yet 
even as members of the labor force they were often assigned to indoor 
occupations only, most of them working as domestic help, hence remaining 
invisible in public life. From the 1880s women started to work in the food and 
chemical industries and in civil services as well and the number of women typists, 
post office clerks, switchboard operators, secretaries and shop clerks started to 
rapidly increase due to the generalization of primary and lower secondary 
education and to technical development. In 1896 the first girls' gymnasium was 
opened in Budapest following such examples as that of Prague (1890), Vienna 
(1892) or Berlin (1894), only a year after women were granted access to higher 
education. It is significant that even this was carried out only by a ministerial 
decree, because Gyula Wlassics, the liberal Minister of Education at that time, did 
not want to take political risks by bringing the question before the two Houses of 
Parliament. However, women's access to higher education was limited and 
controlled in so far as they could only study at faculties of philosophy and in 
medical schools and - unlike male applicants -, women's applications were 
evaluated by an individual process of admission on a case by case basis. Most 
significantly, however, they were excluded from legal studies, that is, from the 
habitual path to public services and political career. Less than a decade later, 
female applicants were also bound to satisfy criteria of excellence in order to be 
admissible, while in the case of their male colleagues the simple fact of having 
graduated from secondary school sufficed. This new admission policy meant that 
from 1904 girls, who according to public and academic opinion were only 
studying out of whim and for following the newest trends, had to have excellent 
grades if they wanted to be admitted to any higher educational institution. 


Katalin Fenyves 

The question of women in higher education surfaced nonetheless in the 
debates of the Hungarian Parliament during the parliamentary session of 1906- 
1907. Facing the problem of academic overproduction, representatives expressed 
their serious concerns about witnessing the "endemic stream" of women entering 
Hungarian universities. Representative Karoly Kmety, a professor of law, went 
even as far as to call them "female monsters", but since his speech was 
immediately picked up by the press, he had to correct his blunder by explaining 
that he "only" referred to feminists. At the time of representative Kmety's 
infamous speech, the number of female students in higher education was only 200 
and their proportion less than 2 percent. (N. Szegvari 1988, 71-72) Nevertheless, 
the number of female university students started to increase steadily and on the 
eve of WWI, their proportion reached 4.5 percent, lagging a mere half percent 
behind the proportion of women in higher education in Germany and about a 
more substantial 2.5 percent behind the Austrian figure. (Kiraly 2009, 
Freidenreich 2002) 

When professor Kmety raged against "female monsters" and subsequently 
tried to excuse himself by restraining the scope of his allegations to the feminists, 
either unknowingly or knowingly he gave a good example of what I called above 
"associative merger". I would argue that when he expressed his disgust with 
feminists, he was very likely to think of Jews. The first feminist organization in 
Hungary was the Feministdk egyesiilete (Association of Feminists), founded in 
1904. Its leaders and most prominent members were indeed Jews, or rather 
women of Jewish descent, but they considered this biographical fact just as 
unimportant as did other Jewish representatives of literary and artistic modernity. 
The main concern of these women was to campaign for women suffrage and to 
advise and help women in all kind of matters. Even though they tried to keep their 
independence in party politics, they were close to those circles, which later in 
1914 organized the Bourgeois Radical Party denounced only four years later 
based on allegations of having served Jewish interests. According to Susan 
Zimmermann, the only monographer of the history of Hungarian women's 
movement, their organization followed a twofold pattern. She characterized 
Hungarian feminists and women in the Social Democratic Party as "individualistic 
modernists", while members of conservative organizations as "hierarchical 
integrationists", because they accepted traditional gender differences. The primary 
aim of Hungarian feminists was to fight for the legal and social (for the Socialists: 
the social and legal) emancipation of women, whereas the objective of the 
conservatives was to tend to womanly issues, that is, social, occupational and 
educational, from a perspective of difference, and represent womanly interests, 
while remaining within the traditional "maternal framework". 

While the most important conservative women's organizations had a 
strong Christian background as well as a strong nationalistic orientation, 
Hungarian feminists and women socialists were still associated with Jews partly 
because of their individualism, their modernism, their internationalism and later 
their pacifism and partly because, as we have seen, feminists and women socialist 

Katalin Fenyves 

were often of Jewish descent. Similarly to them, female students and even girls 
with secondary education were also tended to be from Jewish origin. Far from 
being a specific Hungarian phenomenon, however, this development was common 
in the Central European region. 

"Recent scholars have attributed the overrepresentation of Jewish women 
in the student body to a variety of factors, both socioeconomic and cultural... A 
high proportion of Central European Jews belonged to the "well-situated" middle 
class, which could afford the luxury of educating their daughters, as well as their 
sons. Claudia Huercamp hypothesizes that a lower Jewish birthrate that had begun 
in the late nineteenth century resulted in fewer sons to educate and therefore more 
money to spend on the education of daughters." (Freidenreich 2002, 17) 

Andrea Peto goes even further by claiming that at the turn of the century 
first born daughters of Hungarian Jewish families were educated as if they were 
sons. (Peto 2002, 77-87) Paradoxically, as research in Jewish social history from 
Jacob Katz to Shaul Stampfer and Iris Parush has shown, even in religious 
families Jewish girls and women were less secluded as their Christian peers or 
their male relatives. In the 18 l and 19 l century, the more religious a Jewish 
family was, the less its men mingled with Christians and young Jewish girls and 
women of all ages were more likely to acquire secular knowledge, learn the local 
languages, read European literature than their fathers, brothers or husbands. 
Moreover, Jewish women were also more likely to work outside the home as 
primary breadwinners or partners in business, because on the one hand the most 
important occupation for men was the ongoing religious study and on the other 
hand, Jewish women had more secular knowledge than Jewish men, which made 
them more apt to conduct business with a Christian clientele. Memoirs of Jewish 
intellectuals born in Hungary during the early 19 l century such as Armin 
Vambery, Sigmund Mayer, Adolf Agai or Jozsef Nagy offer ample support of 
these findings. (Fenyves 2010, 75-80, 127-137, 191-198) The effect of these 
peculiarities of the history of Jewish women on their social skills was two-fold. 
On the one hand, they were more accustomed to move around and work in public 
surroundings then their Christian counterparts, and on the other, they could follow 
an uninterrupted tradition of several generations of their reading and studying 
female predecessors. Conclusively, all the above could make their decision to 
study and work easier, to step outside their home less exceptional, in other words, 
make them more probable to build what Bourdieu would call "cultural capital". 

When cultural capital becomes political capital 

As we have seen, even if public irritation provoked by the presence of 
women and Jews in Hungarian cultural spaces started earlier, its decisive turn was 
brought about by the years of WWI and the turmoil of the following revolutions. 
The public did not fail to notice the tremendous changes in the visibility of both 
groups. Most of the resentful declarations cited above were made in 1917, in the 
historical moment when public spirit was at its lowest all over Europe, and even 


Katalin Fenyves 

Hungarian bourgeois radicals considered an intellectual debate of the "Jewish 
question" necessary and inevitable. In fact, by that time, Jews were perceived to 
be underrepresented on the battlefield and overrepresented among the universally 
hated military millionaires in Hungary as well as in other countries, especially in 

As there is an ever growing body of literature on the question of the role of 
Jews in WWI, let me consider here their situation in higher education during the 
war. In the beginning of the 20 l century in Hungary, the proportion of Jews 
among university students was already high and continued to increase until 
following WWI it nearly reached the proportion of the most important 
denominational group, Catholics, which at that time made up 48.7 percent of the 
whole Hungarian population. Between 1914/15 and 1918/19 the percentage of 
Jewish students increased from 37.1 percent to 40.2 percent at the Pazmany Peter 
University of Budapest, the leading university of the country. After a considerable 
initial increase in the first two years of the war, the proportion of Catholics fell to 
40.7 percent in 1917/18 and then rose slightly again to 41.8 percent in 1918/19. 
The most critical year, however, for the anti-Semitic part of the public had to be 
1917 with its 40.7 percent of Catholic and 39.9 percent of Jewish students at the 
University of Budapest (originally of Catholic foundation). These figures, 
however, had to be even more alarming for those who also considered the 
absolute numbers, according to which not only the total number of students 
increased rapidly during the years of WWI but also by 1918/19 the number of 
Catholic students only amounted to 5059, while the number of Jewish students to 
4911. (Kiraly 2009) It has to be remembered, however, that according to the 
census of 1910 the total number of highly educated Jews employed in the public 
services did not reach 4000. 

After the Compromise there was a silent consensus in Hungarian politics 
asserting that since Jews are full citizens and their Jewishness is only a religious 
and not an ethnic affiliation, thus they should not have any specific interests, there 
is no need for a special Jewish representation. In the 19 century, when Jewish 
personalities were elected as members of Parliament, they represented the great 
bourgeoisie in the Lower and different religious and wordly corporations in the 
Upper House. These Jewish representatives only occasionally took up a clearly 
Jewish stance, for instance when they opposed the then marginal anti-Semitic 
party, and even then they acted in accordance with the actual governing liberal 
majority. Representatives of Jewish descent never protested in Parliament against 
the occupational glass ceiling or other disadvantages concerning Jews as these 
issues were considered to be no more than minor problems that should disappear 
with time. This attitude, however, started to change when a new Jewish generation 
entered the scene, born after the Compromise and socialized in the midst of the 
political battles surrounding the Tiszaeszlar blood-libel trial. This new generation 
of young Jewish men started their political career at the local level, in the 
Budapest City Council. Therefore, a so-called "Jewish Party" did indeed exist if 
not in Parliament, then in the Budapest City Council, even if it was only ironically 

Katalin Fenyves 

or deprecatingly labeled as such. (Welker 2006) Their existence, however, was 
not surprising in a city where by 1910 more than 23 percent of the population was 

Unlike their father's generation in Parliament these young Jewish 
members of the Budapest City Council were not rich as they often came from 
modest origins, but benefited from university education. Vilmos Vazsonyi for 
instance, who was trained as a lawyer and later became a representative of the 
Terezvaros district of the capital and leader of the Democratic Party, was the son 
of a schoolteacher. In 1917 he became the first minister of Jewish faith in 
Hungary who did not convert, similarly to the lawyer Ferenc Heltai, the lord 
mayor of Budapest for a short time, who was elected in February 1913, but passed 
away only six months later. In contrast to the former political elite of noble, rich, 
and highly educated Hungarians, these two men and their generation, including 
for instance Samu Hazai, defense minister between 1910 and 1917 and Jozsef 
Szterenyi, minister of commerce in January 1918, both converts, had only 
educational assets. Yet they still got access to the highest positions in the political 
arena without even being members of the economic elite. 

The new political class emerging after the dissolution of the Austro- 
Hungarian Monarchy in 1918 was staffed with a great number of highly educated 
people of Jewish descent. More than half of the members of the two democratic 
governments, both of the National Council and of the leading political bodies 
during the Hungarian Soviet Republic were considered to be Jews by everyone, 
except themselves. The visibility of a minority formerly considered to be 
politically insignificant became extremely high as a number of professionals and 
intellectuals of Jewish descent started to occupy positions of high responsibility in 
different offices and in the dreaded political police. There was no doubt among 
friend and foe that this young new generation of intellectuals of Jewish descent 
succeeded in converting their cultural capital into a political one. 

The situation of women was rather different as compared to Jews, even if 
women's public visibility was slightly less spectacular. During WWI, women on 
the one hand had to fill up many positions left vacant in the labor force by the 
men enlisted in the army, and on the other, their number in higher education 
increased spectacularly. (Karady 1994) In the first year of WWI the proportion of 
female students in Hungarian universities was 8.5 percent and for 1916/17 it 
reached its peak with 16.5 percent. There was a severe decrease in the next year to 
7.4 percent before a slight increase to 8.1 percent in 1918/19, only to fall back 
again to 6.7 percent in 1919/20. However, as we have seen, the percentages are 
misleading in so far as the total number of students in higher education rocketed 
in this period and consequently the number of women students also increased 
drastically from 725 in 1914/15 to 1672 in 1918/19. 

During the two Hungarian revolutions after WWI women gained full civil 
emancipation and full access to every kind of higher studies, including law 
schools. However, they did not have the opportunity to take full advantage of their 
newly granted rights as the revolutions were over before they could vote or be 


Katalin Fenyves 

elected and in the fall of 1919 several faculties refused, as earlier, to let them 
enroll. But, by then "the damage has already been done" as during the war women 
came to discover that they are able to do everything men do. If they were said to 
be highly visible before WWI, during and immediately after it women indeed 
were everywhere where according to traditional norms they did not belong. 

The quota and its targets 

"Because the university is first and foremost a male educational 
establishment [...] we need to introduce the institution of the numerus clausus" 
stated a professor of the Faculty of Philosophy in Budapest during a discussion 
about the still existing restrictions on women's access in 1917 (Bihari 2008, 130) 
As early as 1903, the Faculty of Philosophy already requested from the Ministry 
of Education to prevent women from "thronging" into the universities, but at that 
time the Ministry carefully avoided any open action that would lead to overt legal 
discrimination and instead, as we have seen, issued a policy that dealt with 
women's applications by an individual process of admission and on case by case 
basis. Furthermore, under this policy, female applicants could only be admitted 
with excellent school leaving examination grades, while the grades of male 
applicants were not considered before the Numerus Clausus law of 1920. Yet, 
despite the Ministry's policy, the Faculty of Philosophy in Budapest already 
considered introducing a numerus clausus for women in 1916 as a reaction to the 
growing number of students of both sexes and in order to maintain the quality of 

After WWI and the two failed revolutions, the medical school of Budapest 
in August 1919 was the first to propose the introduction of a quota that would 
maximize the total number of students at 400, calling it numerus clausus. The 
proposed policy was intended to rule out all those who participated in the 
revolutionary movements and to severely restrict women's admission. The 
proposal was forwarded to and circulated between other faculties, but it was the 
dean of the Faculty of Theology who gave it an openly religious and racial turn. 
According to his version, applicants should satisfy moral and spiritual criteria and 
the policy should set a quota of the maximum number of applicants of each 
denomination to be admissible, which should represent the proportion of the 
specific denomination in the Hungarian population. Faculties also should consider 
in admission processes the religion, educational record and race of the candidates. 
By the time the other faculties decided upon the proposal, some accepting and 
some rejecting it, registrations for the new academic year had begun, which later 
became infamous of Jew-bashings and constant scandals. (N. Szegvari 1988, 153) 

The Numerus Clausus bill, proposed to Parliament in 1920, did not 
mention women in any implicit or explicit way as members of the Parliament 
were too busy to debate the negative influence of Jews in recent political 
developments. If the bill was indeed intended only to solve the gravest issues of 
Hungarian education in 1919/20, the problems of overcrowded universities and 

Katalin Fenyves 

the overproduction of highly educated youth, the introduction of a quota linked to 
achievement, as proposed by the referee of the Faculty of Philosophy, would have 
proven more than efficient. However, the very first two sections of the law 
already emphasize the importance of the political loyalty of candidates, implicitly 
ruling out political adversaries, while the third section states that the number of 
young people belonging to the individual races and minorities of the country 
among university students should correspond to the proportion of these races and 
nationalities within Hungary. Therefore, even if implicitly, the law was aimed 
against candidates of Jewish denominations, since their group was considered as 
the most overrepresented in universities. The law remained silent about women, 
leaving a legal gap and allowing faculties to decide about women's admission or 
exclusion at their own discretion, which effectively meant that university-level 
policies could freely curtail women's rights. 

Katalin N. Szegvari and Maria M. Kovacs in their excellent legal and 
political analyses discuss the ramifications and the contexts of the Numerus 
Clausus law. However, in this paper I only want to make some remarks 
concerning its symbolic significations. The first section of the law concerning 
political loyalty is seldom mentioned, yet it can be considered as a milestone in 
Hungarian history in so far as it is the first, but not the last time that access to 
higher education is explicitly made a function of politics. When between 1948 and 
1980 universities demanded from their applicants a recommendation from the 
communist youth organization, they followed the same logic. Furthermore, the 
requirement of proportionality is a classical act of symbolic violence. By talking 
about race and nationality but meaning Jews the law is re-naming "Hungarian 
citizens of Mosaic faith". Calling them an ethnic group or race instead of a 
denomination assigns them an identity category they consequently tried to avoid 
for more than fifty years. At the same time, the law authorizes to think of Jewish 
citizens in terms of race and sets the tone of public discourse. This requirement of 
proportionality is also formulated as if it would serve social justice by giving each 
"race and nationality" fair educational opportunities, but, in fact, it serves only to 
curtail the opportunities of one minority. Once again the same logic was at work 
between 1948 and 1963 when children of "class enemies", that is, members of the 
former social elite, another re -named group were banned from higher education 
under the pretext of social justice. Social justice was indeed lacking, yet the above 
solution was certainly ill-equipped to bring equality about. 

The silence of the law on women amount to legal abuse and at the same 
time demonstrates how little importance was ascribed to them. To relegate the 
question of total or partial exclusion of women to a lower, local level as a mere 
technicality not regulated by law, suggests that their access to university is not a 
right but a mere possibility to be granted or denied. 


Katalin Fenyves 

From the physical and metaphorical spaces to the social space 

The most striking characteristic of sexist and anti-Semitic discourses is the 
excessive use of spatial metaphors. From the very beginnings of their increased 
visibility, both women and Jews were accused of flooding, rushing, thronging into 
and occupying both physical and symbolic spaces like coffee-houses, university 
benches, middle classes or sacred Hungarian soil. Their physical presence in these 
spaces seemed to cause a disruption in the perception of order and eventually 
resulted in a discursive backlash aiming to force both women and Jews back and 
keep them at bay both metaphorically and physically. That is, for the public 
opinion to re-establish order they had to be put back and confined to what was 
considered as "their" spaces. 

What was considered to be the proper place for Jews, however, is explicit 
only in case of the most radical anti-Semites: out of the country. Still, at least, as 
long as the proper place for Jews was out of the country and only spatial 
metaphors were used in anti-Semitic discourses, the idea of their eradication did 
not surface - as it could only be born with the eventual appearance of biological 
metaphors. Such metaphors appeared as early as the end of the 1880s in 
Hungarian anti-Semitic discourses, but they only became dominant in the 1920s, 
not surprisingly in the very historic moment when Professor Lajos Mehely, 
eminent physiologist-zoologist, became the director of the most important racist 
review, A Cel (The Objective). (Gyurgyak 2001, 387-397) 

Social spaces considered to be proper for women were restricted to those 
domains that were associated to traditional female roles such as caring, teaching, 
nursing or potion mixing. For 1920, policies concerning women's admission to 
universities were designed either to completely exclude women from certain areas 
of higher education, like medical schools, or restrict their access to faculties 
associated with traditional female roles. Women could not study Catholic 
theology, and less in line with the above logic economics, engineering, law. Even 
after 1927, when women's access to universities was finally regulated by law and 
their number stabilized between 1264 and 1550 per annum, that is, between 11.8 
and 14.2 percent, they were not allowed to hold prestigious or otherwise important 
positions. Although women were allowed to enter faculties formerly inaccessible 
to them, albeit not in every university, and from 1928 on they could apply to pass 
the examination leading to the position of private lecturer [Hungarian: 
magdntandr], in 1938 there were still only 4 women bearing this title, 4 assistant 
lecturers [Hungarian: adjunktus] and 29 assistants [Hungarian: tandrseged] in the 
whole country. (Papp 2004, 46) Still by 1941 the number of women in the labor 
force was higher than in 1920. The "Modern Woman" (as the New Woman was 
called in Hungary) was an omnipresent character entering and occupying the 
popular press and culture, especially the women's magazines and the new media, 
the film. However, this modern woman was only modern in her appearance, 
because the accomplished women on the screens, while smoking, driving, wearing 
tailor made ensembles, and playing tennis had only womanly concerns. At best, 

Katalin Fenyves 

she was an actress, an artist, or a secretary and never had anything on her mind 
other than the men in her life. Enjoying a limited right to vote and a limited access 
to study, she was kept far away from power and politics and in blissful ignorance 
of the fact that she was everything but emancipated. 

Conclusively, after 1920 the battle was won, the place was clean and 
order, e.i. male Christian hegemony, was reestablished. However, if we consider 
the process starting in 1938, it was obviously not the perception of an important 
majority. Even though no immediate connections can be established between the 
Numerus Clausus law and the Hungarian Anti- Jewish Acts of the 1930s, the 
symbolical signification of this measure can hardly be emphasized enough. There 
are sometimes even minor historical events, which cast a "long shadow". The 
passing of the Numerus Clausus law in Hungarian Parliament in 1920 is a 
decisive case in point. 


Bihari Peter: Loveszdrkok a hdtorszdgban. Kozeposztdly, zsidokerdes, 
antiszemitizmus az elso vildghdboru Magyarorszdgdn. Napvilag Kiado, Budapest, 

Pierre Bourdieu: "Okonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales 
Kapital" in Soziale Ungleichheiten (Soziale Welt, Sonderheft 2), edited by 
Reinhard Kreckel. Otto Schartz & Co., Goettingen, 1983, pp. 183-98. 

Harriet Pass Freidenreich: Female, Jewish, and Educated: The Lives of 
Central European University Women. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 

Jacob Katz: Out of the Ghetto: The Social Background of Jewish 
Emancipation, 1770-1870. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1973. 

Karady Viktor: A nok felsobb iskolazasanak kerdesei. In: Ferfiuralom. 
(szerk. Hadas Miklos) Replika Kor, Budapest, 1994, pp. 176-195. 

Janet Kerekes. Masked Ball at the White Cross Cafe: The Failure of 
Jewish Assimilation. University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, 2005. 

Keri Katalin: Holgyek napernyovel — Nok a dualizmus kori 
Magyarorszdgon 1867-1914. Pro Pannonia Kiadoi Alapitvany, Pecs, 2008. 

Kiraly Sandor: Az egyetemi hallgatosag tarsadalmi arculata a ket 
vilaghaboru kozott. PhD thesis, Debreceni Egyetem, Tortenelmi es neprajzi 
doktori iskola, 2009. 

Maria M. Kovacs: „Ambiguities f emancipation: women and the ethnic 
question in Hungary", Women's History Review (1996) 5: 4, 487-495. 

Maria M. Kovacs: "The Case of the Teleki Statue: New Debates on the 
History of the Numerus Clausus in Hungary", in CEU Jewish Studies Yearbook 
(ed. Andras Kovacs), 2006, 191-209. 

Papp Barbara: Diplomas nok a Horthy-korszakban: A Magyar Noi Szemle 
(1935-1940). MA thesis, ELTE BTK Gazdasag- es Tarsadalomtorteneti Tanszek, 
Budapest, 2004. 


Katalin Fenyves 

Iris Parush: Reading Jewish Women. Brandeis University Press, 2004. 

Peto Andrea: A "fiunak nevelt lanyok" es a tikkum olam szerepe a 
magyarorszagi zsido nok politikai szerepvallalasaban. In: A zsido no. A Magyar 
Zsido Muzeum azonos cimii kiallitasanak katalogusa. Magyar Zsido Muzeum es 
Leveltar, Budapest, 2002, pp. 77-87. 

Ute Planert: Antifeminismus im Kaiserreich, Diskurs, soziale Formation 
und Mentalitat. Vandenhoeck&Rupert, Gottingen, 1998. 

Polonyi Istvan: Az oktatds gazdasdgtana. Osiris Kiado, Budapest, 2002. 

Arpad Welker: "Wahrmann a magyar orszaggyiilesben." In Honszeretet es 
felekezeti huseg: Wahrmann Mor 1831-1892 (ed. Tibor Frank), Argumentum, 
Budapest, 2006, pp. 1 1 1-170. 

Shaul Stampfer: Families, Rabbis and Education: Traditional Jewish 
Society in Nineteenth-Century Eastern Europe. The Littmann Library of Jewish 
Civilization, Oxford, 2010. 

N. Szegvari Katalin: Numerus clausus rendelkezesek az ellenforradalmi 
Magyarorszdgon. A zsido es nohallgatok foiskolai felvetelerol. Akademiai Kiado, 
Budapest, 1988. 

Csaba Fazekas 

Csaba Fazekas 

"Numerus clausus represents a strong national ideology." 
Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka and the closed number law in 

Ottokar Prohaszka, Catholic bishop of Szekesfehervar (1858-1927), was a 
prominent personality of political Catholicism in Hungary and one of the most 
important ideologists of the Horthy regime. l In Hungarian historical publications, 
it is a matter of widespread debate whether the extremely influential bishop was 
an anti-Semite or not. 2 According to many, his statements about the Jews cannot 
be characterised as anti-Semitic. This paper does not strive to settle this debate 
just intends to provide some details about his activities contributing to his 
reception. As a matter of fact, my viewpoint is that Prohaszka's public activities, 
among which Act No XXV of 1920 (numerus clausus) was one of the most 
important episodes, were imbued with anti-Jewish feelings. 

Here, it is only possible to give a brief summary of Prohaszka's anti- 
Jewish attitude, articulated from the beginning of the 1890s. From this time on, 
Prohaszka published several articles in which he combined his criticism of 

1 This work was carried out as part of the TAMOP-4.2.2/B-10/1-2010-0008 project in the 
framework of the New Hungarian Development Plan. The realization of this project is supported 
by the European Union, co-financed by the European Social Fund. 

2 General remark: for the problem of Prohaszka's opinion on Jewry and the Jewish question in 
Hungarian historiography we can find a lot of works representing practically two viewpoints: 1 . 
Denial or attempt to relativize Prohaszka's Anti-Semitism e.g.: Gergely, Jeno: Prohaszka Ottokar. 
„A napbaoltozott ember." ['Ottokar Prohaszka. The man wearing the sun.'] Budapest, 1994.; 
Orvos, Levente: Prohaszka Ottokar es a zsidokerdes. ['Ottokar Prohaszka and the Jewish 
question.'] In: Prohaszka Ottokar - Ptispok az emberert. ['Ottokar Prohaszka - A bishop for the 
man.'] Ed.: Mozessy, Gergely. Szekesfehervar-Budapest, 2006. 135-220; Szabo, Ferenc SJ.: 
Prohaszka Ottokar elete es muve, 1858-1927. ['Ottokar Prohaszka's life and work.'] Budapest, 
2007.; Mozessy, Gergely: Prohaszka Ottokar zsidoellenessegerol. ['About Ottokar Prohaszka's 
Anti-Semitism.'] In: Egyhaztorteneti Szemle, 2008. 4. sz. 125-130. Showing Prohaszka as a 
fundamentally Anti-Semitic political person: Gardonyi, Mate: Az antiszemitizmus funkciqja 
Prohaszka Ottokar es Bangha Bela tarsadalom- es egyhazkepeben. ['The function of Anti- 
Semitism in Ottokar Prohaszka's and Bela Bangha's perception of society and church.'] In: A 
holokauszt Magyarorszdgon europai perspektivdban. ['The Holocaust in Hungary in European 
perspective.'] Ed.: Molnar, Judit. Budapest, 2005. 193-204; Fazekas Csaba: Prohaszka Ottokar 
zsidoellenessegerol. ['About Ottokar Prohaszka's Anti-Semitism.'] In: Egyhaztorteneti Szemle, 
2008. 4. sz. 131-155. See further literature in the following footnotes. From the English literature 
we used more: Hanebrink, Paul A.: In Defense of Christian Hungary. Religion, Nationalism, and 
Antisemitism, 1890-1944. Ithaca-London, 2006. (Further: Hanebrink, 2006.) See more: Fischer, 
Rolf: Anti-Semitism in Hungary, 1882-1932. In: Hostages of Modernization. Studies on Modern 
Antisemitism, 1870-1933/39. Austria - Hungary - Poland - Russia. Ed.: Strauss, Herbert A. New 
York, 1993. (Current Research on Antisemitism, 3/2.) 863-892; Bodo, Bela: 'Do not Lead us into 
(Fascist) Temptation'. The Catholic Church in Interwar Hungary. In: Totalitarian Movements and 
Political Religions, 2007. Nr. 2. 413-431. etc. 


Csaba Fazekas 

capitalism and liberalism with strongly marked anti-Semitism. In the second part 
of World War I, his relevant public statements became stronger regularly 
displaying additional new features. 

In 1917 and 1918, Hungarian public life was imbued with ever stronger 
anti-Semitism (therefore, the anti- Jewish attitude of 1920 can by no means be 
regarded only as a reaction to the fact that most of the leaders of the Hungarian 
Soviet Republic of 1919 had been of Jewish descent), and in this 'preventive 
counter-revolution' , Prohaszka played a central role. In all probability, it is 
correct to say that Ottokar Prohaszka was the first to put forward the idea of 
numerus clausus in an indirect way. In his articles written in 1918 , he already 
clearly formulated the arguments intended to support the later idea of numerus 
clausus. One of these was that at the fronts of the war, Christian youth were 
bleeding while Jews avoided military service, and at the same time, became 
dominant at the universities. ('Our youngsters from the universities are fighting 
hard to defend the country and do not have time to study; meanwhile, others of 
whom we have plenty in this country occupy universities and polytechnics, others 
who were only allowed to stay away from military service - I cannot think 
otherwise, that is why I am saying it expressly - because they are degenerated.') 
Prohaszka' s articles had an enormous impact, and among the increasing hardships 
of the war, greatly contributed to the attitude looking for a scapegoat and 
demanding the repression of Jews. 7 From the aspect of the future, it is extremely 
important that this was the period when radical rightist student organisations 
started their activities. 8 

In autumn 1919, Prohaszka formed a strongly marked anti-Semitic 
standpoint and made it public, as well. This was different from his former 
activities in that he did not only state or outline the reasons and consequences of 

3 Prohaszka's best-known articles on the Jewish question at the end of the 19th century: A zsido 
recepcio a moralis szempontjabol. (1893) In: PCW. XXII. 1-14. ['The Jewish reception from the 
moral viewpoint.']; Kereszteny szocialista akcio. (1894) In: PCW. X. 69. ['Christian social 
action.']; Miert gazdag a zsido s koldus a magyar? (1901) In: PCW. XXI. 166. ['Why the Jew is 
rich and the Hungarian is beggar?']; Mazsalas. (1901) In: PCW. XXI. 183. ['Weighing.'] etc. 

4 . Miklos Szabo's phrase, quoted in Bihari, Peter: Loveszdrkok a hdtorszdgban. Kozeposztdly, 
zsidokerdes, antiszemitizmus az elso vildghdboru Magyarorszdgdn. Budapest, 2008. ['Trenches in 
the Hinterland. Middle Class, Jewish question, Anti-Semitism in Hungary in the World War I.'] 
238. See more: Hanebrink, 2006. 56-57; Schlarp, Karl-Heinz: Das ungarische Numerus-clausus- 
Gesetz von 1920 als erste judenfeindliche Gesetzgebung in Europa. Ursachen und Folgen. In: 
Sudosteuropa. Festschrift fur Edgar Hosch. Hrsg.: Clewing, Konrad von - Schmitt, Oliver Jens. 
Munchen, 2005. (Sudosteuropaische Arbeiten, 127.) 349-382, etc. 

N.Szegvari Katalin: Numerus clausus rendelkezesek az ellenforradalmi Magyarorszdgon. A zsido 
es nohallgatok foiskolai felvetelerol. Budapest, 1988. ['Numerus clausus laws in the Counter- 
Revolutionist Hungary. On the Jewish and the women students' entrance."] (Further: N.Szegvari, 
1988.) 86-87. 

6 Pro juventute catholica (1918); Pro re Christiana (1918); Eleg volt-e? (1918) ['Was it enough?'] 
In: PCW. XXII. 184-194. 

7 About the impact see e.g. the Catholic daily Alkotmdny's articles between 1918 June and 

8 See e.g. N.Szegvari, 1988. 93. 

Csaba Fazekas 

the Jews' 'becoming dominant in society' but put forward proposals to push the 
Hungarian legislative to pass and the government to draw up anti-Jewish 
regulations. In this sense, the experience of the Soviet Republic in Hungary can be 
regarded as a dividing line in Prohaszka's thinking as it provided justification for 
and deepened his already existing anti-Semitic attitude, at the same time urging 
him to take steps to put restrictions on the Jewish community. 

His sporadic statements also indicate that he did not only share the public 
opinion that the Soviet Republic was some kind of conspiracy and organised 
action on the part of the Jewish community but he himself also played a key role 
in the dissemination of such propaganda. In August and September 1919, 
Prohaszka emphasized his commitment to the rebuilding of the country and the 
new regime, at the same time making declarations with which he made an attempt 
to alleviate the extremities of White Terror. This can be clearly seen in his 
encyclics issued following the fall of the Soviet Republic, in which he called the 
former a historical event clearly generated by the Jews but focussed on restarting 
life, rebuilding the country and the refusal of violence (White Terror). For 
example, he condemned the statements made by writer Dezso Szabo, giving a 
lecture at Szekesfehervar town hall. 10 (Allegedly, Szabo said that 'Jews should be 
lovingly exterminated in Hungary'.) 

In autumn 1919, the bishop wrote a two-part article for the Viennese 
weekly Das Neue Reich. In it, he gave a detailed diagnosis of the Jewish problem, 
elaborated on the attempts at solution and the relevant political programmes, 
directly proposing the introduction of numerus clausus. He regarded the solution 
of the Jewish problem to be Hungary's most severe issue ('destiny'), which was 
more urgent than the solution of any other problem. In his lengthy historical 
essay, he dealt with the events leading up to the revolutions in which he attributed 
central importance to the 'spread of Jewish spirit', which spirit had concealed its 
attitude antagonistically opposed to Christian and national values behind the mask 
of assimilation. He dealt with three problems in detail. These later became central 
issues in his future public activities: the land reform, social democracy and the 
role of the press. All of these gave him an opportunity to keep reverting to the 
Jewish problem. He blamed the lack of a thorough land reform for the appearance 
of radical attitudes among the provincial inhabitants of the country, even 
criticising prelates opposing the idea of reallotment of land. In his viewpoint, the 
reallotment of land could have contributed to the formation of a vigorous peasant 
middle class, which was indispensable for the predominance of a Christian- 
national ideology. In Prohaszka's thinking, due to their interests, the Jewish 
community (the 'Galician element', adversary of the Hungarians) was totally 
against the economic rebuilding and strengthening of the peasantry. He called 

A kommunizmus bukasa utan. In: PCW. IX. 60-64. p. ['After the fall of Communism.']; PD. 

10 Pesti Elet, 1919. September 13. 3; Babus, Antal: Fiilep Lajos az 1918-1919-es forradalmakban. 
['Lajos Fiilep in the 1918-1919 Revolutions.'] IV. r. In: Uj Forrcis, 2002. 6. sz. [Hungarian 
Electronic Library: - 2010. December.] 


Csaba Fazekas 

social democracy 'a silly elephant', mounted by '5 or 6 abnormal Jews with 
Phrygian caps on their heads', and according to him, this was how the Soviet 
Republic in Hungary came into being. If the Jewish community is not restricted - 
he concluded - 'Hungary will be lost.' 

He drew a sharp, impenetrable dividing-line between Hungarians and 
Jews, which could only be eliminated by conversion to Christianity and a total 
denial of descent: 'A Jew remains a Jew until he disowns the Jewish community 
as a religious and racial community. Anybody who considers facts will realise that 
there are no Hungarian Jews but there are only Jews living in Hungary who speak 
Hungarian.' According to Prohaszka, time had come when it had to be declared 
openly: 'what we have always known - that Jewishness is not only a religion but 
also a race and a nationality'. And, according to Prohaszka, this race represented 
the greatest threat to the Hungarian nation and should be fought. In the bishop's 
visions, the whole issue became simplified to the level that the Jews wanted to 
take the country from the Hungarians by conspiracy, occupy it as their own and 
oppress the majority, to which the first step was getting their rights acknowledged 
and codified. Therefore (as he put it: 'we must not engage in debates but must 
act') it was necessary to start anti-Jewish legislation. He put forward his ideas in a 
polarised, agitative way: 'In our country, Hungarians face a Jewish community 
speaking Hungarian but strictly preserving their special racial features and living 
in a closed, compact racial community. The following question should be asked: 
is this our country or theirs?' Prohaszka also added that this approach, which was 
common in Hungary, could not be labelled anti-Semitism but only 'Christianity 
and Hungarism'. 

In his second article, focussing specifically on the Jewish problem , he 
elaborated these ideas in greater detail. His starting-point was that he did not hate 
Jews and refused violence and pogroms. He saw the solution in quick and strong 
legislation and in elaborating a legal environment restricting Jews, which would 
lead to the 'national factor' becoming predominant at the expense of the Jews. He 
specifically wrote about the expulsion of immigrant Jews: 'We make no secret of it 
that we want to get rid of any immigrants fraternally given shelter by the 
Hungarian Jewish community.' He dealt with the problem of higher education in 
detail declaring that 'Hungary cannot passively tolerate that the universities are 
inundated by Jews'. In Prohaszka's interpretation, the social differences between 
Jews and Hungarians had been deepened by the educational system (in favour of 
the former). Therefore, as a solution, he firmly demanded the use of admission 
restriction: 'Even first generation Jews belong to the middle class and acquire an 
academic degree. This situation can only be counterbalanced by the application of 
numerus clausus.' 

11 . Prohaszka, Ottokar: Die Judenfrage in Ungarn. In: Das Neue Reich, 1919. 7. Dezember, 150- 
152. The contemporaneous Hungarian comment on Prohaszka's article (Prohaszka Ottokar a 
zsidokerdesrol. ['Ottokar Prohaszka ont he Jewish question.'] In: Gondolat, 1920. January 1. 8. p.) 
named named Prohaszka as 'the person whose words are followed by millions', so normative the 
bishop's program was as the only useful one. 


Csaba Fazekas 

This train of thought was formulated in a more moderate way in 
Prohaszka's paper written in 1920, which is relatively widely known and analysed 
in special publications. However, this brochure was written even more for the 
purpose of informing and convincing politicians and the public in foreign 
countries than his above articles, and only partly reflects Prohaszka's ideas on the 
Jewish question. It can mostly be regarded as a self-justifying diagnosis, which 
makes no mention of the specific action programme or the measures deemed 
necessary by him (for example, the numerus clausus). (In this respect, there are 
only such generalities in it as the existing situation 'cannot be effectively changed 
leniently, with delicate methods' etc.) The brochure gives a detailed summary of 
Prohaszka's anti-Semitic standpoint in the Jewish problem, formed earlier and 
consistently represented all the time later: According to it, Jews can be regarded 
as a 'race' alien to the Hungarian nation, who abused the legal environment of 
emancipation in the second half of the 19th century, settled in the country in huge 
numbers and then occupied the most important positions in economy and trade 
due to their financial talent. In connection with higher education, he only 
mentions that 'Jews were awarded medical and legal degrees in an appalling 
number' without saying how he would like to change this situation. It is also his 
basic idea that liberalism, which he regards to be harmful, was favourable for the 
gaining ground of the Jews who had thus occupied the key positions of literary 
life and the press, as well. Meanwhile, Christian Hungarians had gradually been 
pushed to the background. In addition, Prohaszka elaborated on his basic 
principles of strengthening the middle class and the impossibility of assimilation, 
on his conviction that Jews had an ineradicable racial awareness and his belief 
that it was only and exclusively the Jews who were responsible for the collapse of 
historical Hungary in 1918 and 1919, conspiring to destroy every traditional 
Hungarian value. The extent to which the pamphlet was written for the purpose of 
convincing foreign politicians and the public in foreign countries is also shown by 
the fact that he labelled the Jewish problem as a 'hot worldwide issue', to which 
he could only see two solutions: complete conversion to Christianity or Zionism. 

12 The English version: Prohaszka, Ottokar: The Jewish Question in Hungary. Hague, 1920. 
(Prohaszka lasted for important spreading his viewpoints on Jewish question in a very wide circle: 
he published his article in an American Catholic weekly: Daily American Tribune, 3-4 November 
1920.) The German version was published by a paramilitary, extreme right-wing organisation 
('Deutsch-volkischer Schutz und Trutzbund') with a swastika on the cover of the book: Die 
Judenfrage in Ungarn. Hamburg, 1921. It is interesting; in Hungary there are two Hungarian 
translations. The first was made and used by the extreme right-wing of the 1930's - demonstrating 
Prohaszka as a fore-runner of the National Socialism, the second was translated by a Catholic 
Church historian - trying to contradict Prohaszka's Anti-Semitism. See: Prohaszka, Ottokar: 
Zsidokerdes Magyarorszagon. ['The Jewish question in Hungary.'] In: Uj Magyarsdg, 1937. 
december 25. (Uj Magyarsag I. karacsonyi melleklete.) 27-28. (Transl.: Bosnyak, Zoltan.); Barlay, 
6. Szabolcs: Hitvedelem es hazaszeretet, avagy antiszemita volt-e Prohaszka? ['Faith defence or 
patriotism, or was Prohaszka an Anti-Semitic?'] Szekesfehervar, 2003. (lrasok Prohaszkarol, 2.) 
[Pazmany Peter Electric Libray, Nr. 488. - - 2010. December.] (The first 
one was published in the 2000's on a lot of extreme right-wing webpage, too.) 


Csaba Fazekas 

This was referred to in Prohaszka' s first significant speech in Parliament 
on 26 February, 1920, made in relation to the act on the restoration of 

1 -J 

constitutionalism and the settlement of the problem of head of state. Here, I 
should like to highlight two aspects of this speech, in which Prohaszka 
unconditionally supported governor Miklos Horthy and argued for a strong state 
maintaining order even at the expense of giving up democratic principles. On the 
one hand, he passionately condemned previous, especially revolutionary regimes 
as ones leading to the decay of the country. On the other hand, it was an 
extraordinary rhetorical accomplishment on his part that he kept instigating his 
audience against the Jews with hints and rhetorical questions - without ever 
uttering the words 'Jew' or 'Israelite', etc.! However, with his indirect 
circumscriptions, he provoked his audience to associate to the Jews. (For 
example: 'I am asking what category of revolutions we should put this Hungarian 
revolution to?' Reaction: Shouts: 'Jewish revolution!' Or when he said 'we should 
not tolerate to be kept being spiritually poisoned in this way', reaction: 'Jewish 
press!') Using shrewd rhetorical techniques, he was careful to present the Jewish 
community as the major source of danger in society by giving the most evident 
examples in point for the different issues seemingly by accident but still managing 
to make his audience understand his hints. From such hints, the audience 
unavoidably could come to the conclusion that the Christian-national character of 
the new political regime should be closely related to the exclusion of the Jewish 

On 30 June, 1920, he entered the following frequently cited note in his 
diary: 'we have a Christian regime' 'without Christianity or Christians' 1 I am 
convinced that this did not indicate any 'turning against' the regime on the 
bishop's part. Instead, his disappointment was rather motivated by the fact that the 
regime had not produced the results expected by him, that is, it had failed to turn 
the country rapidly and more markedly 'Christian'. In other words, he did not get 
disillusioned with the Christian regime but rather had the feeling that what was 
currently going on was not (yet) what he wanted - this idea later became the 
source of his increasing radicalism. He sharply criticized 'nominal Christians' 
who only refer to religion 'but do not confess to it with their deeds'. It was not 
accidental that he condemned the lack of anti- Jewish measures constituting an 
essential part of the 'regime': 'Everything is given over to the Jews. We can see 
this everywhere; Jews do the businesses under the flag of the Christian regime 
fluttering up in the air. ' 

It was at this time that Prohaszka finally committed himself to the 
aspirations of the anti Jewish student organisations acting as chairman at the 
students' meeting held on 5 August, 1920, firmly demanding the numerus 
clausus} 5 He set the task of the legislative in 'finding a form to solve this delicate 

13 NA. PD. Vol. I. (1920. February 16.); PSP. (1920. February 16.) 

14 PD. (1920. Junius 30.) 

15 Nagy, Ivan: A MEFHOSz elso eve. Adatok egy kesziilo tanulmanyhoz. ['The first year of 
MEFHOSz. Data to an article in progress.'] In: Uj Elet, 1925. January 28. 9-11.. (Comp.: 

Csaba Fazekas 

issue appropriately and to public satisfaction.' He defined the nature of the 
appropriate form as follows:' Could the law be possibly formulated in the way 
that admission should be proportionate to the number of races and nationalities?' 
(This exactly corresponded to his later motion of an amendment in Parliament.) 
Later he modified it in the way that the law should only refer to 'Jews and non- 
Jews'. The students' meeting played an important role in exerting an anti- Jewish 
pressure in the issue of university admissions, for example in enhancing Ottokar 
Prohaszka' s determination, as well. 

This was confirmed by another statement of his, made in the same 
period, in which he tried to distance himself from anti-Semitic atrocities and, at 
the same time, making it clear that the essence of the whole motion for the 
amendment was an anti- Jewish standpoint, the repression of an undifferentiated 
Jewish community. He said: ' It is my standpoint that this issue should be kept 
away from the street outrages of ordinary anti-Semitism. We do not want anti- 
Semitism but do want to ensure the right of higher education for Jews just like for 
Christians. This right will be ensured on the basis of the number of population. 
We should lower the gates to keep off the flood of a spiritual proletariat, we 
should select among the youth not only on the basis of talent and diligence but 
also on that of reliability, patriotic feelings and moral characteristics. Therefore, 
selection may be made on the basis of religion, and should be made - let us make 
it clear - according to whether the person is Jewish or Christian. We do not want 
Hungarian higher education to become a lever in the hands of the Jews with which 
they will thrust Christian Hungary from its position and make it poor and 
homeless.' This means that at this time, too, Prohaszka saw and presented the 
Jewish community as a mass which was the potential enemy of Christian 

1 7 

Prohaszka also presided at the August meetings of the governing party, 
and in all probability it was him who formulated the motion for the amendment 
according to which in university registrations 'the rate of admitted youngsters 
belonging to the different races and nationalities living in the territory of the 
country should possibly be equivalent to the national rate of the relevant race or 
nationality. ' Formally, the motion was put forward under the name of MP Nando r 
Bernolak but the bishop played a decisive role in its formulation. It is revealing 

N.Szegvari, 1988. 95.) The students' organisations, like MEFHOSz ('Association of Hungarian 
University and College Students'), mentioned very proudly that they had cleared the university 
faculties from the 'communist, radical and Jewish rabble' between 1919 August 3-5, and 
demanded the numerus clausus first. See e.g. the students' newspaper: Technikus, 1920. Nr. 2. 53. 
On the genesis of numerus clausus see: N.Szegvari, 1988. 93-97; Kovacs M. Maria: Liberalizmus, 
radikalizmus, antiszemitizmus. A magyar orvosi, iigyvedi es mernoki kar politikdja 1867 es 1945 
kozott. ['Liberalism, radicalism, Anti-Semitism. The policy of the Hungarian medicals, lawyers 
and engineers.'] Budapest, 2001. 76-78. For the interpretation see comprehensively: Gyurgyak, 
Janos: A zsidokerdes Magyarorszdgon. Politikai eszmetortenet. ['The Jewish question in Hungary. 
APolitical Thought-History.'] Budapest, 2001. (Further: Gyurgyak, 2001.) 117-123. 

16 UjSomogy, 1920. August 31. 1. 

17 Gyurgyak, 2001. 118-119. 


Csaba Fazekas 

that the motion for amendment was first registered by the parliamentary official 
under the name 'Ottokar Prohaszka and others' 18 and it was usually linked to the 
bishop's name in the press, too. In this way, Prohaszka, as the president of the 
governing party, made an attempt to turn against the cabinet, led by Pal Teleki. 
The supporters of the motion for the amendment, marked by his name, exerted 
pressure on the government, in which process a central role was played by anti- 

In autumn 1920, Hungarian public life was characterised by increasing 
anti-Semitism. The openly anti-Jewish Ebredo Magyarok Egyesillete 
('Association of Awakening Hungarians'), several times banned by the 
government on account of its extreme ideology, held its national conference at the 
beginning of September, clearly with the purpose to exert pressure on 
Parliament. To the conference proceedings of the association demanding anti- 
Semitic legislation in an extremist style, Ottokar Prohaszka wrote the foreword, 
thus clearly identifying himself with the extreme right, which the bishop 
considered to be 'the carrier of Christian awareness, public sentiments and moral 

In the parliamentary debate on the numerus clausus (2-21 September, 
1920), Prohaszka's speech on 16 September marked the real turning-point. In 
this, the bishop indicated that the most important device of the formation of the 
Hungarian middle class was the suppression of the Jews and the prevention of 
their attending higher education. He based his highly influential speech on the 
idea that his proposal was not an attack against the Jews, to the contrary: it 
represented 'the nation's self-defence' and thus he fundamentally reinterpreted the 
terminology of politics. (For example, he thought that the term 'freedom' had no 
content but it was just form so that the freedom of the ideologies labelled by him 
as harmful was not freedom in reality but oppression, etc.) He blamed the crisis of 
the country on liberalism, allowing the Jews to enter the country, and he only 
wanted to allow two alternatives for the Jews: conversion to Christianity 
(integration into 'Christian society') or emigration (Zionism). He tried to prove 
the unpatriotic feelings of the Jews with - actually untrue - statistical data 
according to which they would have fought in the fronts of the war in a much 
lower rate than Christians. However, the majority believed and followed him 
while the few liberal speakers were hooted down. Prohaszka's speech was 
received with thunderous applause in Parliament and the press celebrated the 
overwhelming success of his speech for days. It is typical that a student 

18 HNA. K 2. (= Parliamentary Archive. President's Papers.) 530. cs. 28. t. 55. 

19 Az Ebredo Magyarok Egyesiiletenek II. Orszagos elnoki konferenciaja Budapesten, 1920. evi 
szeptember ho 7 '., 8. es 9-en. ['The 2nd National Presidential Conference of the Association of 
Awakening Hungarians in Budapest, in 1920. September 7., 8. and 9.'] Budapest, 1920. 
November.; Zinner, Tibor: Az ebredok fenykora, 1919-1923. ['The heroic age of awakeners.'] 
Budapest, 1989. 76-88. 

20 NA. PD. Vol. V. (1920. September 16.); PSP. (1920. September 16.) See more e.g.: Herczl, 
Moshe Y.: Christianity and the Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry. New York, 1993. 45-46. 

Csaba Fazekas 

organisation wrote in their letter of thanks that Prohaszka's speech 'had an effect 
on our souls similar to that dew has on a barren meadow. Our souls have got 
refreshed, our truth has been proven.' Following Prohaszka's example, they 
declared that they expected further anti- Jewish measures and were even ready 'to 
run into death for Christian Hungary. ' 

In fact, Prohaszka would have supported the extension of the numerus 
clausus. For example, at the beginning of December 1920, he supported the 
motion for amendment according to which in the management board of the 
Banking Institutions' Centre, providing the state control of banks, the number of 
Jewish members should be maximised in two. Although this motion was 
outvoted in Parliament it is important that its logic exactly corresponded to that of 
the Acts on Jews passed at the end of the 1930s. (Restriction of the number of 
Jews in every field of the economy and public life) 

Prohaszka tried to keep his ideas formulated in 1919 and 1920 about the 
Jewish community on the public agenda even when he was no longer a member of 
parliament. He kept emphasizing that the 'Jewish spirit', 'Jewish culture', 'Jewish 
press', etc. still presented the same or an even greater threat to the Hungarian 
nation than before. He always tried to persuade his current audiences to fight the 
Jewish danger and be 'alert'. Here, I only cite one of his later statements 
concerning numerus clausus. A reporter asked for his opinion about the 
statements promising the alleviation of numerus clausus especially because it had 
been Prohaszka who 'brought this work of racial protection to maturity with his 
mighty arguments.' At this time, the bishop did not comment on the remark 
attributing a central role to his person but vehemently inveighed against the 
endeavours referred to in the question. It is worth quoting his arguments in greater 
detail: 'The attempts at the weakening of the numerus clausus cannot be ignored. 
Without doubt, these attacks would sooner or later transform public opinion and 
would destroy the well-conceived statute of the first national assembly. The germs 
of liberalism are still present in the minds of Hungarian intellectuals, and 
naturally, liberalism does not like to reside together with strong national feelings. 
[. . .] Now that we have recovered a bit, we are attacked not only by the Jewish but 
also by a by far more dangerous liberal way of thinking. The numerus clausus 
represents a strong national ideology. It is identical with national Christian 
awareness. If this way of thinking is alien to a person, he will naturally not be 
enthusiastic about the numerus clausus, and if a person is not enthusiastic about 
numerus clausus, he will not prevent emigration from Galicia, either. The 
politicians of the past decades have not been able to create a national Hungary 
because they have not taken this fact into account. Since the act on numerus 

21 College students' so-called Carlyle Circle's letter to Ottokar Prohaszka. Ujpest, 1920. 

September 25. - DA. PC. s.n. 

" The parliamentary ameni 

parliament, Karoly Ereky. See: NA. PD. Vol. VII. (1920. December 1.) 

23 Prohaszka Ottokar puspok az 

In: Szozat, 1922. August 31. 1-2. 

"" The parliamentary amendment was presented by the extreme Anti-Semitic member of 
23 Prohaszka Ottokar puspok az idoszerii kerdesekrol. ['Ottokar Prohaszka on actual questions.'] 


Csaba Fazekas 

clausus was passed, the situation has not improved at all in favour of Hungarians. 
To the contrary, our conditions concerning the protection of the nation have 
definitely deteriorated because national awareness has decreased and the rapid 
pace of reoccupation, characteristic of the period following the days of the Soviet 
Republic, has flagged. I do not think that it is timely to make any amendments or 
narrowing.' Once again, Prohaszka expressed his support for the extension of the 
numerus clausus: 'We cannot stop at the restriction of the freedom of study.' 

At church events or at the meetings of the Ebredo Magyarok Egyesillete 
(Association of Awakening Hungarians) and other 'Christian' political 
organisations, he either formulated his ideas more strongly or more leniently. It 
also happened that he openly encouraged the radical extreme right and spoke 
more and more about the distinction of the 'Hungarian race' and the 'Jewish race'. 
(By the expression Hungarian 'race', he meant a spiritual community sharply 
distancing itself from the Jewish community and embodying a special 
combination of Christianity and Hungarian nationalism.) Thus, towards the end of 
his life, Prohaszka came near to the extreme right in the consolidating Bethlen era, 
and although he was no longer in the forefront of public and political life he was 
still regarded to be a respected spiritual leader. 

As a last remark, let me mention that in the period of the later amendments 
of the numerus clausus law after the bishop's death, Prohaszka's name became 
the symbol of extreme right endeavours to preserve the original intentions of the 
act. For example, MP Bela Turi gave lengthy citations from the anti-Jewish 
argument system of the late bishop of Szekesfehervar, and contemporary press 
published articles about what Prohaszka's opinion would be about the restriction 
of the intentions and measures of the law on Humerus clausus, inseparable from 

i • 2526 

his name. 

DA. PC. — [Dioecesal Archives, Szekesfehervar. Prohaszka Collection.] Szekesfehervari 
Puspoki es Szekeskaptalani Leveltar. Prohaszka-gyujtemeny. 

HNA. — [Hungarian National Archive.] Magyar Orszagos Leveltar. 

NA. PD. — [National Assembly. Parlamential Diary.] Az 1920. evi februar ho 16-ara 
hirdetett nemzetgyiiles naploja. I-XIII. kotet. Budapest, 1920-1922.; Az 1927. janudr ho 25-re 
hirdetett orszdggyiiles kepviselohdzdnak naploja. Budapest, 1927-1932. [Parliamentary 
Documents. Diaries and papers, 1861-1990. Online library of the Hungarian Parliament Library: - 2010. December.] 

PCW. — [Prohaszka's Collected Works.] Prohaszka Ottokdr Osszegyiijtott Muvei. Ed.: 
Schiitz, Antal. I-XXII. Budapest, 1929. 

PD. — [Prohaszka's Diary.] Prohaszka Ottokar: Naplojegyzetek III. (1919-1927) Ed.: 
Frenyo, Zoltan - Szabo, Ferenc SJ. Budapest, 1997. [Pazmany Peter Electronic Library. Nr. 316. - - 2010. December.] 

24 NA. PD. Vol. IX. (1928. February 14.) 

25 Nemzeti Ujsdg, 1928. February 15. 5-6. 

26 1 express my special thanks to Ms Judit Papp Szabo for his stylistical work on my paper. 

Csaba Fazekas 

PSP. — [Prohaszka's Speeches in the Parliament.] Prohaszka Ottokdr parlamenti 
beszedei. Ed.: Barlay, O. Szabolcs - Kiss, Antal. Szekesfehervar, 2006. [Pazmany Peter Electronic 
Library. Nr. 478. - - 2010. December.] 


Tibor Frank 

Tibor Frank 

„All modern people are persecuted". Intellectual exodus 
and the Hungarian trauma, 1918-1920 

Watershed 1919: Socio-political crisis and intellectual emigration 

Hungary was particularly hard hit by the consequences of World War I, 
not only from her association with Germany and thus being irredeemably on the 
losing side, but the lost war also released long simmering social tensions and 
energies that facilitated the outbreak of subsequent revolutions. 1 In addition, the 
country had to accept the humiliating peace treaty of Trianon, the consequence 
and symbol of the military success of the Entente powers. Tragically, the treaty 
paved the way for Hungary's involvement in World War II. Though much of this 
is textbook history, a review of some of the crucial points of Hungarian history in 
the years 1918-1920 can serve as a background to the devastating intellectual 
exodus that followed postwar events. 2 

World War I, the "Great War," was immediately followed by the "Frost 
Flower (Aster) Revolution" (October 31, 1918), which preceded the German 
armistice. Headed by Count Mihaly Karolyi, a magnate and one of the few steady 
opponents of the War from its beginning, the 1918 revolution was geared toward a 
liberal transformation of Hungary from a largely feudal to a bourgeois-democratic 
system with well-known Radicals and Liberals, including scholars and social 
scientists, in the government. The Liberal-Democratic, occasionally leftist elite, 
and the Radical elements in early twentieth-century Hungarian politics, academia, 
literature and the arts, may have felt for a brief period of time that their long fight 
for the modernization of the country against the repressive regimes of pre -World 
War I Hungary had finally come to a successful and promising climax. Prime 
minister-turned-president in the newly proclaimed Republic of Hungary, Count 
Karolyi promoted a much-overdue land reform and addressed major social 
problems. He failed, however, to handle the rapidly deteriorating international as 
well as domestic political and economic situation and half-heartedly left his power 
to the Social Democrats and the Communists, whom his government had quite 
stubbornly and effectively oppressed until their takeover on March 21, 1919. The 
short-lived Hungarian "Republic of Councils" (in Hungarian: Tanacskoztarsasag) 
was a translation of the "Soviets" and was largely imported from Soviet Russia by 

1 This paper is based on the author's article „Between Red and White: The Mood and Mind of 
Hungary's Radicals, 1919-1920 {Hungarian Studies, 9/1-2, 1994, pp. 105-126), as well as his 
recent book Double Exile: Migrations of Jewish-Hungarian Professionals through Germany to the 
United States, 1919-1945 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009), pp. 79-1 19 

2 For a brief introduction to the period see Tibor Hajdu and Zsuzsa L. Nagy, "Revolution, 
Counterrevolution, Consolidation," in Peter Sugar, Peter Hanak, and Tibor Frank, eds., A History 
of Hungary (Bloomington-Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), pp. 295-318. 

Tibor Frank 

former Hungarian prisoners of war, who had spent years in Russian POW camps 
during World War I where they had been indoctrinated with the ideas and ideals 
of Communism. It seemed that the "Soviet" Republic of Hungary tried to realize 
the dreams of the Bolsheviks: its leader, Bela Kun, as well as some of his 
associates were in constant, sometimes even personal touch with Lenin himself. 
The leaders of 1919 outdid those of 1918 in terms of radicalism, social 
engineering and imported visionary utopianism and were often completely 
detached from the realities of post- World War I Hungary. Theirs was a major 
social experiment turned into total disaster. Initially popular among certain groups 
of workers, poor people in general, and some intellectuals, the system succeeded 
in alienating not only the middle class but even the peasantry, and ended up after 
133 days with no social backing whatsoever. Its only visible success was a 
nationally popular effort to retake former Hungarian territories that by 1919 had 
become dominated by the Czechs and its willingness to fight for Transylvania, 
occupied by Romania, which had used the political vacuum to move well into the 
heart of Hungary. By early August 1919, the Soviet experiment was over, and 
Bela Kun's regime had to go. 

Many of the leaders in both revolutions, but particularly of the 1919 
Republic of Councils, came from a Jewish background. About two-thirds of the 
"people's commissars" (as ministers of the government were then called) and 
their deputies were Jews. Jewish presence was particularly noted in the police 
forces and in the cultural ministry. To appreciate and understand 1919, we must 
set it against the background of Jewish-Hungarian social history. 

By the end of the nineteenth century, in little over two generations, 
Hungary had absorbed a vast influx of several hundred thousand Jewish 
immigrants from Russian and Austrian Poland. Hungary was a country whose 
Hungarian citizens were not necessarily all native speakers of the Magyar tongue. 
Yet, the new refugees were for the most part little tolerated and even despised by 
the happier few, who had arrived earlier, mostly in the eighteenth and the early 
nineteenth century, either from Moravia or other westernized territories of the 
Habsburg Monarchy. Many of these earlier arrivals had quickly assimilated to the 
Hungarian traditions, learned the Hungarian language, appreciated the dominant 
Hungarian culture, and become devoted to the national/nationalist sentiment that 
swept across the country during much of the nineteenth century. They played an 
important role in building the new Hungary of the Austro -Hungarian Monarchy 
(1867-1918), its economy, its professional class, its cultural infrastructure, its new 
urban civilisation and its modern intellectual capital assets. They had quickly 
entered politics, even parliament and the government. Just like their equivalents in 
Vienna, they received titles from the emperor-king Franz Joseph I, entered the 
ranks of the lower nobility, and for some, even the titled aristocracy. They 
produced and owned much of the new wealth and exercised considerable 

3 On the first year of the (mainly Communist) Hungarian emigration see Gyorgy Borsanyi, "Az 
emigracio elso eve" [The first year of emigration], Valosag, 1977/12, pp. 36-49. 


Tibor Frank 

influence and even political clout by the time the newcomers from Galicia or 
Russia were moving into the country, mostly after the final partition of Poland 
(1795), especially in the Vormarz (the Hungarian „Reform Era"). It was almost 
inevitable that the two groups would find each other offensive, and their conflicts 
contributed to the end of their "love-affair." 

After the takeover of Admiral Miklos Horthy's White Army in August 
1919 and a succession of extremely right-wing governments, "Jew" and 
"Communist" became almost synonymous. As Hugh Seton-Watson remarked, 
"[t]he identification of 'the Jews' with 'godless revolution' and 'atheistic 
socialism,' characteristic of the Russian political class from 1881 to 1917, was 
now also largely accepted by the corresponding class in Hungary." 5 Bolshevism 
was considered "a purely Jewish product," as sociologist Oscar Jaszi described it 
in his reminiscences. Jews were punished for the Commune as a group. Until 
Horthy was proclaimed Regent of Hungary on March 1, 1920, the country lived 
under the constant threat of extremist, sometimes paramilitary commandos, who 
tortured and killed almost anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who was said or thought to 
have been associated in any way with the Bela Kun government. Intellectual 
leaders lost their jobs as a matter of course. Jewish students were repeatedly 
beaten. In Prague and Brunn (today Brno, Czech Republic), many Hungarians, 
"indeed almost Hungarian colonies, of some 100-200 people" according to New 
York engineer Marcel Stein's memory, "left Hungary not as Communists but as 


Jews." The year 1920 saw the introduction of the Numerus Clausus Act in 
Hungarian universities and law schools: for anyone who was Jewish, starting a 
career was becoming nearly impossible. There were few ways to survive 
politically, economically, and intellectually; the safest solution was, indeed, to 
flee the country. 

On top of this turmoil, the devastating peace treaty of Trianon effectively 
transferred the larger part of the former kingdom of Hungary to newly created or 
aggrandizing neighboring "nation-states" (in actual fact multi-ethnic, 
multinational countries) such as Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the "Kingdom of 
Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" (later, as of 1929, Yugoslavia). The Hungarians of 
those multiethnic territories immediately began experiencing many difficulties. 
Once again, Hungarian intellectuals or would-be intellectuals of those regions had 
very little choice but to leave. 

4 Raphael Patai, The Vanished Worlds of Jewry, p. 68. For some brief but very succinct comments 
see Hugh Seton-Watson, Nations and States. An Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the 
Politics of Nationalism (London: Methuen, 1977), pp. 389-390, 394, 426. 

5 Hugh Seton-Watson, op. cit., p. 399. 

6 Oscar Jaszi, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Hungary (New York: Howard Fertig, 1969), 
pp. 122-124, quote p. 123. 

7 Interview by the author with Marcel Stein at Columbia University, New York City, November 
29, 1989. 

8 The first major introduction to the problem area of Hungarian intellectual emigration after World 
War I is Lee Congdon's Exile and Social Thought. Hungarian Intellectuals in Germany and 
Austria, 1919-1933 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991), an important book. 

Tibor Frank 

Budapest became frustrated, angry, and dangerous. Leaders and members 
of the Radical Party felt particularly bitter and lost. 9 One of those was a former 
cabinet minister under Count Karolyi and one of his few personal friends, the anti- 
Bolshevik Radical Oscar Jaszi (1875-1957), a versatile and original social 
scientist/politician, "Minister Entrusted with the Preparation of the Right of Self- 
Determination for Nationalities Living in Hungary" in late 1918, then professor at 
Oberlin College, Ohio, from the 1920s until his death, and author of the widely 
read The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy. 1 Jaszi 's Hungarian friends 
included some of the best Liberal and Radical minds of early twentieth-century 
Hungary, most of whom gathered in the Tdrsadalomtudomdnyi Tdrsasdg [Society 
for Social Sciences], and published in its journal Huszadik Szdzad [Twentieth 
Century], which was introduced by no less a patron than Herbert Spencer. The 
spectacular galaxy that surrounded them and who made their reputations abroad 
included art historians Frederick Antal, Arnold Hauser, and Charles de Tolnay, 
film theoretician and poet Bela Balazs, philosopher Georg [von] Lukacs, 
sociologist Karl Mannheim, economic historian Karl Polanyi and his brother, the 
physical chemist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi. 

Jaszi 's first marriage is a good example of some of the social patterns of 
Hungarian Jewry. The gifted author and artist Anna Lesznai (1885-1966) came 
from a distinguished, gentrified, upper-middle class Jewish-Hungarian family. 
Her grandfather was a celebrated doctor in northeastern Hungary, who 
distinguished himself in the fight against the cholera epidemic of 1831 and could 
even boast of a personal relationship with Hungary's great 19th century national 
leader Lajos Kossuth. Lesznai' s father, Geyza Moscowitz de Zemplen, was a rich 
landowner who gave important support to Count Gyula Andrassy, the first 
Hungarian prime minister in the newly transformed monarchy (1867-1871) and 
later, more importantly, Austro-Hungarian minister of foreign affairs (1871- 
1878). Moscowitz received a title and was the only Jewish member of the 
otherwise discriminating aristocratic Nemzeti Casino [National Club]. Anna 
Lesznai changed her name and took one from the family estate at Kortvelyes 
(today Hrusov in Slovakia) where she had grown up. 

9 On the differences between Radicals and Socialists see Imre Csecsy, "Radikalizmus es 
szocializmus," (Radicalism and Socialism) in: Radikalizmus es demokracia [Radicalism and 
Democracy]: Csecsy Imre vdlogatott irdsai [The Selected Writings of Imre Csecsy] (Szeged, 
1988), pp. 47^19. 

10 10 Jaszi himself came from an upper-middle class Jewish background and his family converted 
into Calvinism Peter Hanak, Jaszi Oszkar dunai patriotizmusa [Oscar Jaszi's Danubian Patriotism] 
(Budapest: Magveto, 1985); see also Hugh Seton- Watson, op. cit., pp 166-167. Cf. Tibor Hajdu, 
Az 1918-as magyarorszdgi polgdri demokratikus forradalom [The Hungarian Bourgeois 
Democratic Revolution in 1918] (Budapest: Kossuth Konyvkiado, 1968), Gyorgy Litvan, A 
Twentieth-Century Prophet: Oscar Jaszi 1875—1957 (Budapest: Central European University 
Press, 2005). 

11 For the family background see Anna Lesznai, Kezdetben volt a kert [First There Was the 
Garden] (Budapest: Szepirodalmi Konyvkiado, 1966), Vols. I— II. 


Tibor Frank 

Jaszi's own reminiscences indicate his detesting equally both 
"Bolshevism" and the "White Terror," a stance typically shared by the Radicals of 
Hungary. He soon came to the conclusion that "the mechanical State 
Communism of the Marxists cannot be a higher stage of development, as it would 
completely absorb the freedom and self-direction of the individual." Jaszi 
provided the first scholarly and penetrating "critical evaluation of the proletarian 
dictatorship" and demonstrated, in his own words, "the economic and moral 
bankruptcy of the Soviet Republic." He abhorred the raging of the White Terror, 
which he described as "one of the darkest pages of Hungarian history," and 
condemned the new regime just as uncompromisingly for "the complete 
suppression of popular liberties." 5 

The letters Jaszi received from family and friends during his 1919-1920 
Vienna exile reveal much of the anguish, distress, and misery of the post- 
revolutionary period. Father Sandor Giesswein's letter to him reflected the 
Budapest mood in the fall of 1919: "With us the atmosphere is like in the middle 
of July 1914 — were we not at the outset of Winter, we would again hear the voice 
subdued in so many bosoms: Long live the war! — This is what the Hungarian 
needs." 16 

The successful author and playwright Lajos Biro received similar news in 
Florence from his friends in Hungary: "Letters from home keep telling me that 
everybody reckons with the opportunity of a new war by next Spring. The war is 
unimaginable, impossible, madness; but in Hungary, so it seems, it is the 

i n 

unimaginable that always happens." Jaszi's brother-in-law, Jozsef Madzsar 
added: „[...] the distant future is dark. The air is unbelievably poisoned, it feels as 
if in a room filled with carbon dioxide, one must get out of here, anywhere, 
otherwise it gets suffocating. Please write to me whether there is something 
toward Yugoslavia or whether or not something can be done in Czechoslovakia. 
There are serious negotiations here with the British and there is some chance 
toward Australia, the very best prepare themselves, it will be good company." 

Others also placed their hopes on newly-established Czechoslovakia. Lajos 
Biro, however, had a number of questions: "What do the Czechs say? How do 

12 Oscar Jaszi, op. cit., Chapter IX. 

13 Ibid., p. 113. 

14 Ibid., p. 153. 

15 Ibid., pp. 160, 177. 

16 Sandor Giesswein to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, November 24, 1919, Columbia University, Butler 
Library, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. [Original in Hungarian.] — 
Sandor Giesswein (1856-1923) was co-founder of the Christian Socialist movement in Hungary as 
well as a courageous and outspoken Member of Parliament. 

17 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, December 25, 1919, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. [Original in 

18 Jozsef Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, November 6, 1919, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. 
[Original in Hungarian.] — Jozsef Madzsar (1876-1940) was a versatile medical doctor and social 
activist, editor and author who moved from a Radical background toward the Communist Party in 
later life. 

Tibor Frank 

they envisage the future? How does Masaryk envisage it?" 1 On another occasion 
Biro, with some bitterness and mockery, felt he had a bad choice in front of him 
when it came to Czechoslovakia: "If news about Horthy turns out to be true and 
he resorts to conscription and attacks the Czechs, then — then one can only shoot 
oneself in desperation over the fate of Hungary or else. . . he can volunteer to join 
Horthy's army." 20 

"To live here in [BudaJPest today is very obnoxious, the uncertainty, that 
on anybody's petty accusations or charges you could get into prison, how 
nauseating," the influential avant-garde artist Karoly Kernstok thought. The air 
was filled with fear. "Denes Nagy resigned from the secretaryship of the Free 
School, he is afraid as are most people, he is anxious to keep his job in the 
[Ministry of] Public Food Supply," 22 an admirer of Jaszi, Ambro Czako, informed 
him at the time. "I was also hit by clericalism, I lost my job (in the pedagogical 
institute)," he went on, „although the faculty nominated me three times in the first 
place, it was the secretary of the Calvinist department of the Christian] Socialist] 
Party who got the job [ . . . ] It is a great pity, that the element which supported us in 
the progressive cause is — cowardly. [...] [The socialist editor] Bela Somogyi 
was right when he said to me the other day: It is very bad that however 
outstanding a man Jaszi is, there is no one behind him, as there is no radical 
bourgeoisie, only cowardly Jews. Though this is not true that way, but it does 
contain some truth [...] The Hungarians are indeed angry at the Jews, the clericals 
for Bolshevism, we on the other hand for their recent spineless behavior." 

This was a pointed reference, indeed, to the lack of courage or simply 
unwillingness of Jewish intellectuals to rally against the White Terror in the fall 
and winter of 1919-1920 and stand up against the "White" army of Admiral 
Miklos Horthy. Madzsar made the point in a different way: "Should you return, 
you will find all the valuable people of the former Radical Party around you, the 
Gentiles without exception [...] the Jews are much more cowardly." 25 Anything 
but an anti-Semite, Jaszi came quickly to the conclusion that "on the whole, the 
atmosphere of the Socialist parties is poisoned, made terribly Jewish through a 
grocery store spirit. This should be cured in some way, as in the Church through 
the Reformation, since this current Social Democracy is unable to prepare the 
future." 26 

19 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, December 25, 1919, loc. cit. 

20 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, December 4, 1919, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. 

21 Karoly Kernstok to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, October 27, 1919, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. 

12 Ambro Czako to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, November 28, 1919, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. 
[Emphasis added.] 


Bela Somogyi (1868-1920) editor of the Socialist daily Nepszava, assassinated by an extremist 
military commando for his open criticism of the White Terror. 

24 Ambro Czako to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, November 28, 1919, loc. cit 

25 Jozsef Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, November 6, 1919, loc. cit. 

26 Oscar Jaszi to Mihaly Karolyi, Wien, Austria, September 21, 1919, Boston University, Mugar 
Memorial Library, Special Collections, Karolyi Papers, Box 2, Folder 4/11/3. Throughout I have 
used the original Karolyi and Jaszi correspondence in U.S. libraries, checking it against Karolyi 


Tibor Frank 

The Freemasons of Hungary were also Jewish to a considerable extent and 
Czako blamed them as well for inaction, remarking: "Balassa e.g. (for whom I 
have otherwise high regard!) has no courage to summon the .'. -s and the 
Symbolic Grand Lodge did not make a single step toward foreign lodges, 
particularly toward the French Grand Orient to support the Hungarian 


progressives." Others were also giving up hope about Freemasons, and the 
Liberal daily Vildg came under heavy criticism for its failing tenacity to represent 
basic Liberal values and its lack of moral strength. Early in December 1919, Lajos 
Biro received firsthand information on Hungarian Freemasonry and the daily 


Vildg when the art historian Arnold Hauser arrived in Florence from Budapest. 
"I was most embarrassed and upset when he spoke to me about the tone of Vildg,''' 
Biro wrote. "He cannot exactly quote the articles but he says, Vildg disavows even 
the revolution of October [1918]. If this be the case, it's most deplorable. The 
white terror does not last for ever, and how does Vildg want to do politics later if 
it denies everything three times before the cock will crow?" Vildg made a lot of 
its former friends and readers deeply unhappy. "A number of people come to me 
who are dissatisfied with Vildg and Co, they would want a little more serious, 
combating approach," 30 Jozsef Madzsar reported to Jaszi. 

The dangerous and often demoralizing ambience increasingly made people 
think about leaving the country. Emigration for Hungarians was not a novel idea: 
some one and a half to two million people had left the country between 1880 and 
1914 for the United States. Few of these early emigrants were intellectuals, 
however. By 1919 the situation had changed. "How different is the air that 
[authors in Hungary] breathe since 1918 in contrast to what they had breathed 
before 1918...," author and critic Ignotus noted. "The air, just as wine or sulfur 
dioxide, influences man's mind as it considers things, man's eyes as they look at 

-3 1 

things, and man's judgment as it measures things." "Today it is good for any 
honest man to have a passport," as Mrs. Madzsar summarized the case in a late 
1919 letter to her brother Oscar in Vienna. 

Many didn't wait to get a real one and forged documents: "There are any 
number of people now trying to leave the country for various purposes with false 
passports," U.S. General Harry Hill Bandholtz of the Inter-Allied Military 
Mission in Budapest reported in early January 1920 to the American Mission in 

Mihdly levelezese [The Correspondence of Mihaly Karolyi], Vols. I- VI (Budapest: Akademiai 
Kiado, I, 1978 [ed. Gyorgy Litvan], II, 1990, III, 1991 [ed. Tibor Hajdu]. 

27 Ibid 

28 Arnold Hauser (1892-1978), internationally recognized sociologist of art, author of critically 
acclaimed The Social History of Art. 

29 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, December 4, 1919, loc. cit. — Biblical reference at the end of 
the passage from John 13:36. 

30 Jozsef Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, November 6, 1919, loc. cit. 

31 Ignotus, "A Hatvany regenyerol" [On Hatvany's novel], in Ignotus vdlogatott irdsai [Selected 
Writings by Ignotus] (Budapest: Szepirodalmi Konyvkiado, 1969), p. 266. 

Tibor Frank 

Vienna. A character in author Gyula Illyes's novel, Hunok Paris ban (Huns in 
Paris) remarked in a conversation in Paris in the early 1920s: "Soon there will be 
no one left in Hungary!" A lot of people had little else in mind but emigration. 
Leading Communists had no other option. Some people had mixed feelings about 
it, others seemed quite terrified: 

„J6zsi [Madzsar] is strongly concerned with the idea of emigration, which 
can only be understood by those who went through all this, from March [1919] till 
now. But particularly the last four months. I did not believe that there could be 
anything which I detested more than Communism. [...] Though I don't deny, I 
would suffer very much from leaving Hungary." 

Madzsar had the same feelings: "Alko [Jaszi's sister Alice] is very 
nervous, she is terribly excited about my thinking of emigration, it is only 
yesterday that has value for her, and she can only look forward to tomorrow 

-3 C 

terrified. And yet, this is going to be the end of it." The idea of emigration soon 
obsessed Madzsar entirely. "There is one hope to keep me alive, perhaps one 
could emigrate. This is the only thing I can think of, and I start next spring if there 
is just the tiniest opportunity to make a living somewhere else." 

Some of those involved in the revolutions, like the author Lajos Biro, had 
already become emigres and found themselves on their way toward some 
unknown destination. Biro (1880-1948), an acclaimed novelist, playwright, and 
journalist went on to success in Hollywood as a script writer for several films 
directed by fellow Hungarian Sir Alexander Korda (1893-1956). Yet, gloomy and 
forlorn in 1919, Biro settled temporarily in Florence, Italy, and derived moral 
strength from Jaszi's friendship, to whom he wrote at the end of December: „I am 
full of doubt and wavering, even my health was in terrible shape until very 
recently. I had unhappy and aimless weeks and in these deaf weeks I am 
sometimes inclined to commit moral suicide. In soul only, of course; one mentally 
breaks with everything that is dear to him and says this hopeless race, man, should 
be damned: he does not deserve anything else but what in fact happens to him." 

Biro was contemplating going to the United States to work for Hungarian 
papers and discussed his plans with Jaszi, who already had harbored similar ideas. 
Biro was successful and, unlike most Hungarian authors, was well known even 
outside Hungary, yet he felt uncertain about leaving Italy. "One or two of my 
plays will be soon shown and one or two of my novels published. Perhaps they 
also show one of my plays in London; if I happened to have success that would at 

2 Gen. Harry Hill Bandholtz to Albert Halstead of the American Mission, Vienna, Austria, 
Budapest, January 3, 1920. Memoranda to American Commission to Negotiate Peace, 1919-1920. 
Louis Szathmary Collection, Chicago, IL, consulted on March 27, 1990. 

33 Gyula Illyes, Hunok Parish an [Huns in Paris] 1st ed. 1946, 3rd. ed. (Budapest: Szepirodalmi 
Konyvkiado, 1961, Vol. 1.) p. 102. 

34 Alice Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, [Budapest], n.d. [most probably November 1919], Oscar Jaszi 
Papers, Box 5. 

35 Jozsef Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, November 6, 1919, loc. cit. 

36 Jozsef Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, [Budapest], November 19, [1919], loc. cit. 

37 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, December 25, 1919, loc. cit. 


Tibor Frank 

any rate facilitate my American trip. By any means I want to spend half a year 
there and want to learn English well enough to write for papers in English." 38 He 
kept himself open to both options: "I do believe that it will be possible to return 
home in the spring [of 1920]. Yet it would be good to keep the way open toward 
the West." 39 

Biro was optimistic about Jaszi's emigration plans, noting: 

„What you wrote about American plans is entirely convincing to me. That 
English speaking America would give you as much as you modestly need or even 
a lot more is quite clear to me. My doubts concern Hungarian America. But I 
might be wrong even there. I think that the New York reporters would welcome 
me already on the ship, will write a lot of nonsense, in some sensationalist 
fashion, on what I may have to say; and this great reception will perhaps impress 
our good Hungarians to an extent that even they would behave like a human 

Even the Liberals of Hungary could not emotionally accept what had 
happened to the country and her borders in the Treaty of Trianon (1920). Lajos 
Biro's assessment of the political situation of partitioned Hungary was a statement 
for very nearly his entire generation. "I am very biased against the Czechs," he 
admitted, particularly because they are the finest of our enemies (and because 
their expansion is the most absurd). I think if I was in charge of Hungarian politics 
I would compromise with everybody but them. Here I would want the whole: 
retaking complete Upper Hungary, from the Morava to the Tisza [Rivers]. I don't 
know the situation well enough but I have the feeling that Hungarian irredentism 
will very soon make life miserable for the Czech state and that the Slovak part 
will tear away from the Czechs sooner than we thought. Then we can make good 
friends with the Czechs." l 

Biro's vision proved to be prophetic in some ways, and as was fairly 
typical among assimilated Jewish-Hungarian intellectuals at the turn of the 
century, he proved to be very much a Hungarian nationalist when deliberating the 
partition of former Hungarian territories and their possible return to Hungary. „To 
me, I confess, any tool served well that would unite the dissected parts with 
Hungary. I feel personal anger and pain whenever I think for example of the 
Czechs receiving Ruthenland. I really think any tool is good that would explode 
this region out from the Czech state. I believe in general that Hungarian 
nationalism will now receive the ethical justification which she so far totally 
lacked; nations subjugated and robbed have not only the right but also the duty to 
be nationalist. We must see whether or not the League of Nations will be an 
instrument to render justice to the peoples robbed. If yes, it's good. If not: then all 
other tools are justified. First everything must be taken back from the Czechs that 

39 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, December 4, 1919, loc. cit. 

41 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, November 24, 1919, loc. cit. 

Tibor Frank 

they themselves took away, as this will be the easiest. Then from the Serbs. 
Finally from the Romanians." 42 

Nonetheless, Biro felt pessimistic about the prospects of returning to 
Hungary and thought, oddly but not untypically, that his Jewishness compelled 
him to demonstrate his Hungarian patriotism by way of making himself 
financially independent of Hungary. 

„I have settled for a long, long stay abroad. I hope I will be able to live 
here or elsewhere and make a living. I have a burning desire to make my personal 
economy completely independent from any financial source at home: I want to 
prove to myself that my painful love toward Hungary and the Hungarians is 
independent from what the Hungarian book-market can give me, just because I do 
not happen to be an engineer or a doctor but an author. — Sometimes I think that 
this feeling is a Jewish feeling, [the poet Endre] Ady might not even have such an 
idea. All the worse for me. To be a Hungarian is quite a problem. To be a 
Hungarian Jew is doubly so. To be a Hungarian Jewish author: this is the piling of 
pains by way of [Heinrich] Heine." 

In virtual exile since before the Republic of Councils, which he detested, 
Jaszi did not feel optimistic. In letters to Count Mihaly Karolyi in the early Fall of 
1919, he spelled this out clearly. "The situation is undoubtedly dark," he wrote 
from Prague. "Vienna is swirling again and rough. The whole of Europe is like a 
mortally operated man sick in fever, and poor Hungary, as Navay added, received 
a cadaverous poisoning." Jaszi's sister, Alice Madzsar, made her brother 
particularly distressed by telling him that the "white" regime was not at all 
attacking Communists only. 

„In the University, [political] reaction is raging mostly in the school of 
medicine, led by Grand Master [Arpad] Bokai [Bokay]. [...] The party started in 
the university faculty by first putting together a kangaroo-court with Bokai, 
[Janos] Barsony and I do not remember the third; the 4 professors of Jewish 
origin, Leo [Liebermann], [Rezso] Balint, [Emil] Grosz, and [Adolf] Onody 
[Onodi] were "interrogated" as defendants. [Baron Sandor] Koranyi was spared 
with a view to the merits of his father. They voted after the interrogation and 
declared that the people in question are rehabilitated with flying colors except for 
Onodi against whom the process will continue [...]. According to the blacklist 
compiled by [Professor Erno] Jendrassik's senior assistant Csika, the Adjunct 
Professorship 5 was taken from Jozsi [Jozsef Madzsar], Lajos [Dienes], Pali 
Liebermann, Tibor Peterfi, [Miksa] Goldzieher, Jeno Polya, [Sandor] Barron 


43 Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, November 24, 1919, he. cit. 

44 Oscar Jaszi to Mihaly Karolyi, Praha, October 15, 1919, Boston University, Mugar Memorial 
Library, Special Collections, Karolyi Papers, Box 2, Folder 4/ II/3. 

45 Equivalent to a German Privatdozentur. 


Tibor Frank 

[Baron], Karoly Engel and 54 people lost their job in the University. Among the 
Adjunct Professors as you can see there is not one Communist." 46 

Madzsar himself wrote Jaszi to this same effect about the purges in early 
September 1919, adding that "their crime is mainly that they are Jews. They took 
my Adjunct Professorship without any hearing, and also from Polya, Peterfi, 
Lajos Dienes, Goldzieher, Karoly Engel and Pali Liebermann, as you can see, 
none of them is a Bolshevik, but this is now good excuse to persecute all modern 
people." 7 A little later Madzsar repeated the phrase as if he found the point, "All 


modern people are persecuted, this company created a terrible atmosphere." No 
wonder that Jewish intellectuals in the fall of 1919 were intimidated to a degree 
that they seemed or, in fact, became "cowards." 

Alice Madzsar had hardly more encouraging news from other parts of the 
University of Budapest, "though the situation is perhaps milder than in the 
Medical School," she believed. "As I hear, [Mano] Beke, [Bernat] Alexander, 
[Geza] Revesz, [Lipot] Feher [Fejer] have to go. 50 On the suggestion of [Lajos] 
Loci [Loczy] the Hungarian Academy of Sciences declared that Jews can no 
longer be members." 51 Jaszi received no better news from other intellectual 

„Action was taken in the [Municipal] Library against Jozsi [Jozsef 
Madzsar], [Soma] Braun, Laci [Laszlo] Dienes, [Bela] Kohalmi, Blanka Pikler. [ 
...] Poor Blanka, she was detained for 2 weeks, she, who just like us, despised 
these Communists. But at least she was not beaten. Terrible things go on in the 
police, in the Transdanubian area, everywhere. But you certainly know about 
these from the papers in Vienna." 

The painter Karoly Kernstok was even more succinct about the paradox of 
people with an anti-Communist record now going to the "white" prisons of 
Admiral Horthy's army: „You know it was bad in the prison from the dirty worn 
out trousers to the prisoner-cap and the linen which saw the dream of prisoners, 
and from the rebuke, the kicking to the clearing of the table- [illegible word] we 
had a number of other pleasures like this, pour completer la biographic — Yet 
damn it, during the whole time I reproved the Commune, to peasant and to 
gentleman and to Bela Kun. But you know the Hungarian country gentleman who 

46 Alice Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, [Budapest], n.d. [end of 1919?] — Several of the doctors 
mentioned here left Hungary at some point before World War II, e.g. Miksa Goldzieher for the 
U.S., Karoly Engel for Australia, Tibor Peterfi for Czechoslovakia and Germany. Liebermann 
committed suicide in 1938. 

47 Jozsef Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, [Budapest], September 3, 1919, Columbia University, Butler 
Library, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. 

48 Ibid. — Emphasis added. 

9 For a general survey of anti-Semitism in the medical profession in the 1920s see Maria M. 
Kovacs, "A Numerus clausus a huszas evekben" [The Numerus clausus in the 1920s], Budapesti 
Negyed, 1995/8, pp. 137-158. 

50 Eminent professors of the School of Philosophy, of Jewish origin. 

51 Alice Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, [Budapest], n.d. [end of 1919?] 

52 Ibid. — Emphasis added. 

Tibor Frank 

was reddest of them all, who remained and served the Bolsheviks, just as he did 
Karolyi, Tisza; this is how that country bumpkin wanted to deserve some 
praise." 53 

And yet in the crestfallen mood of the fall of 1919, after the departure of 
Bela Kun but before the consolidation of the Horthy regime, those at home hoped 
to get out while the emigres hoped to get back. When Biro tried to help his friend 
Jaszi find his way to the United States, Biro was desperate: "My heart is heavy 
when I write this letter. What misery and what sadness this is." 5 And in four 
weeks, on Christmas Day, he added: "Sometimes I am tortured by unbearable 
homesickness." The misery of the exiles was not mitigated by some countries 
wishing to see the aliens out of their land and denying them jobs or other forms of 
livelihood: "Here in Switzerland distrust of the 'Uslanders' [foreigners] 56 is just 
raging, so that a foreigner can hardly get here to some income, in addition, those 
after this will hardly be allowed in at all. [...] your option is certainly right: 

The old animosities and personal, often petty, biases among the Hungarian 
Radicals were exacerbated and even transferred into the emigration. The Jaszi 
circle for instance, partly at least because of its own mixed Jewish/gentile, upper- 
middle class (or even upper class) background, never liked the Polanyis, and this 
type of division damaged the chances of concentrated Radical-Liberal political 
action. The Polanyi family was one of the most remarkable in modern Hungarian 
cultural history. Its members built a modern intellectual tradition. Of Jewish- 
Lithuanian background, Cecilia Polanyi, the mother of Michael and Karl and soon 
a widow, was the focus of a popular, largely Jewish intellectual circle. She was 
also an enthusiastic follower of Emile Jacques-Dalcroze and set up an "institute of 
eurhythmies" to teach the representation of musical rhythms in movement in 
Budapest. She wrote for Liberal German papers in Budapest (Pester Lloyd, Neues 
Pester Journal), Vienna (Neues Wiener Journal), and Berlin (Berliner Borsen- 
Courier and the Berliner Montagspost). More importantly, she was one of the 
earliest feminists of Hungary who, between 1912 and 1914, established and 
maintained her own private "women's college," called Noi Liceum, which she 

53 Karoly Kernstok to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, October 27, 1919, loc. cit. The same idea emerges in 
Jaszi's Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Hungary, op. cit., p. 173. 



Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, Firenze, November 27, 1919, loc. cit. 

Lajos Biro to Oscar Jaszi, December 25, 1919, loc. cit. 

Swiss-German for "foreigner." 

Karoly Meray-Horvath to Oscar Jaszi, Davos-Platz, Switzerland, December 9, 1919, Oscar Jaszi 
Papers, Box 5. 

Cf. Noi Liceum. Magyar nok tudomdnyos tovdbbkepzo tanfolyama, 1912—1913,1913—1914 
("Ertesito" and "Munkaterv"), [Budapest, 1913]. Ilona Duczynska and Zoltan Horvath, "Polanyi 
Karoly es a Galilei-K6r" [Karoly Polanyi and the Galileo Circle], Szdzadok 1971/1, pp. 89-104; 
and Lee Congdon, "Karl Polanyi in Hungary, 1900-19," Journal of Contemporary History, 11, 
No. 1 (1976), pp. 167-183; Hans Zeisel, "Karl Polanyi," in David L. Sills, ed., International 
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 12 ([New York:] The Macmillan Co & The Free Press, 
1968), pp. 172-174. 


Tibor Frank 

interpreted as an open university for Hungarian women. Its faculty included some 
of the best scholars, social scientists and artists of the day, whose list reflected the 
intellectual scope and horizon of the Polanyi circle before World War I. The 
student list reflected the social background of Mrs. Polanyi's school, representing 
mostly rich, upper-middle class Jewish Budapest. 

Family interests were truly encyclopedic. One of "Mother Cecile's" sons, 
Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), was the distinguished physical chemist turned 
philosopher, author of Personal Knowledge, first in Germany, later in Britain. His 
brother Karoly (Karl) (1886-1964), cofounder of the pre- World War I radical 
Galilei Circle in Budapest, became a pioneering economic 
historian/anthropologist in the United States {The Great Transformation, 1944; 
Dahomey and the Slave Trade, 1966); his wife Ilona Duczynska (1897-1978) was 
also a leading figure in the radical movements of the early twentieth century. 
Michael's son, John C. Polanyi (b. 1929, and living in Canada), received the Nobel 
Prize in Chemistry in 1986. Several other members of the family were equally 
creative and active. 

Nonetheless, regardless of the Polanyis' outstanding record, Alice Jaszi- 
Madzsar was particularly hostile to Karoly (Karl) Polanyi and his followers, and 
warned her brother against possible cooperation with Karoly in the United States 
which Oscar Jaszi seemed to have considered at that point. Karoly Polanyi was 
attacked even in the most Liberal circles though, as Alice Jaszi-Madzsar added, 
"[o]f course they themselves do not mean Karoly himself, but the many chaos- 
minded, ill-mannered Jews who made up his entourage [...]'* Jozsef Madzsar 
joined his wife in attacking Jaszi 's plans to cooperate politically with Karoly 
Polanyi in the United States. „(1) It is unfortunate that the American plan is 
common knowledge, you still don't know the Polanyis; (2) You couldn't have 
worse company in America than Karli; (3) All the plans of our friends concerning 
the future end with the ceterum censeo: 60 but without the Polanyis! Those who 
would go for you into the fire make a proviso that the P[olanyi] dynasty must not 
enter the club. There isn't a single Gentile among us (including myself) who 
would be once again willing to do any common work with any of the Polanyis 
[. . .] [DJon't alienate your best allies by exposing yourself again with a member of 
the P[olanyi] dynasty. One cannot undertake this burden after their participation in 
the [Communist] dictatorship, not to speak about the damage done by their 
participation in the Radical Party." 

This was more than just personal animosity against Karl Polanyi, this was 
a dedicated attempt to draw the line between the Radicals and the Communists, 
between the two revolutions of 1918 and 1919, and make the Radical-Liberal 

59 Alice Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, [Budapest], n. d. Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. — Janos Hock (1859— 
1936), author, orator and Member of Parliament, left Hungary after the declaration of the Republic 
of Councils. 

60 "I keep telling you . . ." from the speeches of the Elder Cato (234-149 B.C.) who often reiterated 
it in his outbursts against Carthage. 


Jozsef Madzsar to Oscar Jaszi, Budapest, December 28, 1919, Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. 


Tibor Frank 

position clearer, devoid of the extremities of both left and right. This included the 
avoidance of people discredited during what was commonly called the Commune. 
It became a running theme among Radicals and Liberals, and distancing 
themselves from the memory of 1919 was rapidly becoming an integral part of the 
new, progressive, Liberal agenda. A friend wrote to Jaszi on the necessary 
changes during the fall of 1919: 

„They plan to reopen the Free School but the list of speakers is in my mind 
not good: mostly people who played a role during the Commune. [...] In general, 
my feeling is that the world, the public sentiment, has changed very considerably, 
those who supported Hungarian progress up to now are disturbed; on the one hand 
they have a certain animosity against the progressive direction, on the other hand 
they do not like the contemporary state of affairs either. This mood makes a new, 
adapted method necessary. The old, excellent, aggressive, critical voice, dating 
back to some two years ago, is today out of place." 

It was certainly not the White Terror that created the "Jewish question" in 
1919; it was already there, deeply embedded in early twentieth century Hungarian 
society. There were, of course, biases of all sorts. The Polanyi circle, typically, 
would deal only with Jews and was often convinced that everybody of importance 
was, could, or should be Jewish. This often damaged their links with potential 
non- Jewish political allies. As a friend put it in mid- 1921 writing to Michael and 
his family: "There is a new tenant in your apartment [in Germany], I don't know 
whether or not you know him, Sanyi [Sandor] Pap, a boy from Pozsony [today 
Bratislava in Slovakia], and he is not even Jewish. He has never been. None of his 
relatives have ever been. I don't believe the whole story; there is no such person 
in the world." 63 

62 Jeno [Gonczi] to Oscar Jaszi, [Budapest], n. d., Oscar Jaszi Papers, Box 5. I am indebted to 
Gyorgy Litvan for identifying Gonczi as the author of this letter. 

63 Gyuri [?] to Michael Polanyi and family, Wildbad, Germany, June 12, 1921, Michael Polanyi 
Papers, Box 1, Folder 14, University of Chicago, Joseph Regenstein Library, Special 
Collections. — The perception of Jewish intellectual ubiquity was not quite a delusion or self- 
deception. The professional elite in Hungary had very 

frequently intermarried with Jewish families and the Gentile author Lajos Zilahy provided an 

unusual and unexpected explanation, in his unpublished autobiography: "Christian intellectuals 

met with rigid, almost hostile reactions from their families and relatives. This is the explanation of 

the fact that some seventy percent 

of them — beginning with Jokai, the greatest novelist in the last century up to the youngest 

generation in literature, the composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly [sic], prominent actors and 

painters — married Jewish girls, not for money, but for the warmer understanding of the Jewish 

soul for their professions." Lajos Zilahy, 

Autobiography, Boston University, Mugar Memorial Library, Lajos Zilahy Papers, Box 9, Folder 

5. [English original.] — Mixed marriages in fact have remained a basic pattern in Hungarian 

middle-class and upper-middle-class society and have added to its creativity and intellectual 

intensity. Cf. John Lukacs, Budapest 1900. 

A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988), pp. 



Tibor Frank 

Leaving Hungary 

Whatever their faith, the drive to leave Hungary was preeminent and 
urgent for thousands. Contemporary observers commented on the "crisis of the 
university degree," which was widely discussed in Hungarian public life, in 
parliament, at social gatherings, as well as at student meetings. Though the 
Numerus Clausus Act of 1920 created a particularly severe situation for young 
Jewish professionals, the crisis had a dramatic impact on most of the young 
students in Trianon-Hungary. 64 Social critics in the late 1920s pointed to "such an 
astonishing measure of intellectual degradation that the bells should be tolled in 
the whole country. " Emigration seemed to be a serious option for every college 
graduate throughout the 1920s. Jews, of course, found they could not place 
realistic hopes on completing advanced studies and making a career in Hungary. 
Foreign universities and other institutions promised a good education and perhaps 
also a job. Good people freshly out of the excellent secondary schools started to 
gravitate toward German or Czechoslovak universities. Several of the latter also 
taught in German, and the Hungarian middle class of the Austro-Hungarian 
Monarchy, Jew and Gentile alike, spoke German well. They brought it from 
home, learned it at school, occasionally in the army or during holidays in Austria, 
and it now became their passport to some of the best universities of Europe. The 
papers of almost every major Hungarian scientist or scholar include requests for 
letters of recommendation to attend fine German institutions. Already in 
Germany, Michael Polanyi and Theodore von Karman were in constant contact 
with each other and with some of their best colleagues in Hungary and abroad. 
This is partly how interwar Hungarian emigres started "cohorting" or 
"networking," and gradually built up a sizeable, interrelated community in exile. 
The network of exiles often continued earlier patterns of friendship in Hungary. 

Curiously enough, Vienna was not particularly inviting. With his mother in 
Budapest and his brother Michael in Karlsruhe, Karl Polanyi 's discomfort in 
Vienna was typical. Though he was recognized as an economist of some standing 
and soon became editor of Der osterreichische Volkswirt, he complained bitterly 
about the ambiance of the city. "The spiritual Vienna is such a disappointment, 
which is deserved to be experienced by those only who imagine the spirit to be 
bound to a source of income ." 67 

64 Dezso Fugedi Pap, "Belso gyarmatositas vagy kivandorlas," [Internal colonization or 
emigration] Uj elet. Nemzetpolitikai Szemle, 1927, Vol. II, Nos. 5-6. Repr. p. 1. — Pap cites 
pathetic details about the lifestyle of Hungary's cca. 10,000 students, most of whom were deprived 
of even the most essential conditions and many were hungry and sick. 

65 Dezso Fugedi Pap, op. cit., pp. 1, 6-8. 

66 Mihaly Freund to Michael Polanyi, [Budapest], May 4, 1920; Imre Brody to Michael Polanyi, 
Gottingen, March 24, 1922; both in the Michael Polanyi Papers, Box 17. 

67 Karl Polanyi to Michael Polanyi, Vienna, April 24, 1920, Michael Polanyi Papers, Box 17, 
Folder 2. [Original in German] 

Tibor Frank 

Germany seemed much more challenging than Austria. With its 
sophistication and excellence, it was the dreamland for many who sought a 
respectable degree or a fine job. Young Leo Szilard was somewhat compromised 
under the Republic of Councils as a politically active student, and found the 
Horthy regime, in the words of William Lanouette, "thoroughly distasteful, and 
dangerous. [...] He thought he was in physical danger by staying because of his 
activities under the Bela Kun government [...] [He] was [...] afraid to come back. 
He stayed in Berlin." At first Szilard wanted "to continue [his] engineering 
studies in Berlin. The attraction of physics, however, proved to be too great. 
Einstein, Planck, von Laue, Schroedinger, Nernst, Haber, and Franck were at that 
time all assembled in Berlin and attended a journal club in physics which was also 
open to students. I switched to physics and obtained a Doctor's degree in physics 
at the University of Berlin under von Laue in 1922." 

Already in Karlsruhe, Germany, and on his way toward a career in 
physical chemistry, Michael Polanyi was searching for a good job. He turned for 
help to the celebrated Hungarian-born professor of aerodynamics in Aachen, 
Theodore von Karman, seeking advice as to his future. Von Karman himself came 
from the distinguished, early assimilated Jewish-Hungarian professional family of 
M6r Karman. Theodore went to study and work in Germany as early as 1908 and 
acquired his Habilitation there. By the end of World War I, he already had a high 
reputation when, after a brief interlude in 1919 in Hungary and some largely 
inaccurate accusations that he was a Communist, he quickly returned to Aachen in 
thefallofl919. 70 

Young Michael Polanyi 's questions to von Karman about a job in 
Germany were answered politely but with caution. 

„The mood at the universities is for the moment most unsuitable for 
foreigners though this may change in some years, also, an individual case should 
never be dealt with by the general principles [...] To get an assistantship is in my 

68 William Lanouette on His Leo Szilard Biography. Gabor Pallo in Conversation with William 
Lanouette, The New Hungarian Quarterly, XXIX, No. Ill (Autumn 1988), pp. 164-165. A 
missing link: Szilard received a certificate from Professor Lipot Fejer dated December 14, 1919, 
testifying that he won a second prize in a student competition in 1916, and he presented this 
document to a notary public in Berlin-Charlottenburg on January 3, 1920. This is how we know, 
almost exactly, when he left Hungary. Cf. Beglaubigte Abschrift, signed by Notary Public 
Pakscher, Charlottenburg, January 3, 1920, Leo Szilard Papers, Mandeville Special Collections 
Library, University of California, San Diego, Geisel Library, La Jolla, California, MSS 32, Box 1, 
Folder 12. 

69 Leo Szilard, Curriculum Vitae (Including List of Publications), August 1956, updated June 23, 
1959, Leo Szilard Papers, MSS 32, Box 1, Folder 2. Albert Einstein, Fritz Haber, Max von Laue, 
Walther Nernst, and Max Planck were Nobel Laureates, while Erwin Schrodinger and James 
Franck were prospective Nobel Laureates. 

70 For the 1919 incident in Hungary see Theodore von Karman with Lee Edson, The Wind and 
Beyond: Theodore von Karman (Boston-Toronto: Little, Brown & Co, 1967), Chapter 11: 
"Revolution in Hungary," pp. 90-95; Gabor Pallo, Egy tudomanytorteneti szindromarol — Karman 
Todor palyafutasa alapjan," Val6sdg,Vo\. XXV, No. 6, 1982, p. 26. 


Tibor Frank 

mind not very difficult and I am happily prepared to eventually intervene on your 
behalf, as far as my acquaintance with chemists and physical chemists reaches. I 
ask you therefore to let me know if you hear about any vacancy and I will 

7 1 

immediately write in your interest to the gentlemen concerned." 

Michael Polanyi's Budapest University colleague and friend, George de 
Hevesy (1885-1966), chose Copenhagen. The prospective Nobel Laureate 
(Chemistry, 1943), who also came from a wealthy upper class Jewish family, was 
subjected to a humiliating experience just after the Republic of Councils came to 


an end. De Hevesy received his associate professorship (the actual title was 
"Extraordinary Professor") from the Karolyi revolution and his full professorship 
from the Commune. He had a special task to perform: with Theodore von Karman 
in his short-lived, though influential job in the ministry of education as head of the 
department of higher education, de Hevesy tried to obtain enough money to equip 
the Institute of Physics at the University of Budapest with important new 
technology and materials that would also serve other departments. Allegations 
were made that he used his friendship with von Karman to prepare the Institute of 
Physics for Karman and the department of physical chemistry for himself. He was 
accused of having been a member of the university faculty council during the 
Commune and to have received his professorship from its government. He was 
dismissed and was even denied the right to teach at the University of Budapest. 

In an important letter written to Niels Bohr in the middle of his "trial," de 
Hevesy bitterly complained that "politics entered also the University [...] hardly 
anybody who is a jew [sic] or a Radical, or is suspected to be a Radical, could 
retain his post [...] The prevalent moral and material decay will I fear for 


longtime prevent any kind of successfull scientific life in Hungary." Hevesy left 
Hungary in March 1920. 

Others tried their luck in the German universities of Prague or Briinn 
[Brno] in newly created Czechoslovakia, where good technical and regular 
universities were available and the language of instruction was German. Many 
Hungarians had been natives of Pozsony or the Slovak parts of former greater 
Hungary and spoke German as their mother tongue. Standards were high and the 
students were still close to home. In an interview given in late 1989 in Columbia 
University in New York City, former Hungarian engineering student Marcel Stein 
vividly remembered the heated and dangerous atmosphere of late 1919 and early 
1920 in Budapest. Though many moved to Berlin-Charlottenburg, or Karlsruhe in 
Germany or, like the distinguished engineer Laszlo Forgo, toward Zurich, 

71 Theodore von Karman to Michael Polanyi, Aachen, March 17, 1920, Michael Polanyi Papers, 
Box 17. 

72 The history of the "trial" of De Hevesy in late October 1919 was reconstructed by Gabor Pallo, 
"Egy boszorkanyper tortenete. Miert tavozott el Hevesy Gyorgy Magyarorszagrol?" [The History 
of a Kangaroo Court: Why Georg de Hevesy Left Hungary?] Valosag XXVIII (1985), No. 7, pp. 

73 George Hevesy to Niels Bohr, Budapest, October 25, 1919, Bohr Scientific Correspondence, 
Archive for History of Quantum Physics, Office of the History of Science and Technology, 
University of California, Berkeley. [English original.] 

Tibor Frank 

Switzerland, Marcel Stein remembered that many emigres returned to Hungary 
later. 74 Though their actual number is unknown, the returnees were lured back to 
Hungary chiefly because of their sense of linguistic isolation, their keenly felt 
separation from family and friends, and, most of all, the gradually consolidating 
situation of Hungary in the mid- 1920s. 

Still some of the best scientists, engineers, scholars, artists, musicians, and 
professionals of all sorts, continued to leave Hungary in large numbers in 1920 
and later. 75 For many, there was real danger in staying as they had actively 
promoted the Commune of 1919, such as the future Hollywood star Bela Lugosi, 
remembered primarily for his role in Dracula, who left for the U.S. in 1921, and 
film director Mihaly Kertesz, who became the successful and productive Michael 
Curtiz of Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and White Christmas. For those 
who were actually members of the Communist government at some level, like the 
philosopher Georg [von] Lukacs and the author and future film theorist Bela 
Balazs and many others, there was simply no choice but to leave. 

Hungary became more civilized and less dangerous in the latter part of the 
1920s under the government of Count Istvan Bethlen (prime minister between 
1921 and 1931), and some of the heated issues of 1919-1920 subsided by the end 
of the decade. The Radical-Liberal agenda no longer had a wide appeal, losing 
many of its champions who chose exile, and meeting with a measure of disregard 
under the regime of Regent Adm. Miklos Horthy. It became apparent to most 
people how difficult it had become, in the suddenly and drastically changed 
international and national, political and social conditions of the immediate post- 
World War I period, to uphold Western ideas and ideals. Even the Liberal agenda, 
which looked back almost a century in Hungarian history, and which embraced 
former immigrant Jews as well as the ideals of modernization through much of the 
nineteenth century, was in many ways closed off. Interwar Hungary became a 
thoroughly conservative, nationalist, and emphatically "Christian" country, as it 
was defined by the ruling elite. Though uncertain whether to leave their native 
Hungary, many Radicals and Liberals, despite their ambivalence, resolved their 
dilemma by necessity alone: there was no choice left to them but emigration. 

The escape of Hungarian modernism 

The unparalleled artistic, cultural, and intellectual upheaval in the final 
decades of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy has been amply treated by a growing 

74 Marcel Stein in conversation with the present author, November 29, 1989, Columbia University, 
New York City. In 1990-91 I was granted several valuable interviews by Andrew A. Recsei 
(1902-2002), a distinguished chemist in Santa Barbara, CA, another former Hungarian student 
who also studied once in Brno (Briinn) in exactly the same period of time. 

75 For the earliest and consequently incomplete list of important people who left Hungary in, or 
right after, 1919-1920, see Oscar Jaszi, op. cit., pp. 173-174. 


Tibor Frank 

literature, in and out of Austria and Hungary. Much of what we call "the 
modernist movement" in European music, literature, the arts, social thought, 
philosophy, and psychology was started in the fertile, sensual and decaying 
intellectual climate of turn-of-the-century Vienna and Budapest. There was a 
certain playfulness and experimentalism in the air, the creative elite became 
attracted to novelty and invention, intellectual challenge and a call for change. 

Less has been written about the link between the spiritual and artistic 
upsurge in what the Austrian author Stefan Zweig called the "World of 
Yesterday" and the subsequent post-World War I exodus of the Austro -Hungarian 
intellectual elite. The revolutionary movement in the arts and thought of pre-War 
Vienna and Budapest was radically transformed after the collapse and dissolution 
of the Monarchy in 1918-1920. The modernist movement suddenly lost 
momentum and was transformed into a more professional and more conservative 
tradition. It was also gradually relocated to other countries such as Austria, 
Czechoslovakia, Germany, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, and ultimately, the 
United States. In the following I will show some of the characteristic patterns of 
this migration of intellectual and artistic experimentalism and innovative spirit, 
illustrated here by two creative Hungarians who contributed to U.S. culture and 
civilization in a major way, Joseph [Jozsef] Szigeti and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. 

Pioneer in programming: Joseph Szigeti 

Budapest was a center for the discovery of talented young musicians such 
as Gustav Mahler, Arthur Nikisch, Hans Richter, Rafael Kubelik, Franz von 
Vecsey, as well as of the dancing phenomenon Isadora Duncan. The man who did 
most for modern music among the Hungarian musicians was probably the 


violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973). This Jewish-Hungarian virtuoso, who left 
Hungary also in the early 1920s, was perhaps the most celebrated and well-known 
student of Jeno Hubay and he carried the Hubay tradition literally all around the 
world. All his life he was conscious of the continuity of the Brahms tradition, both 

76 Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday. An Autobiography (1943, repr. Lincoln: University of 
Nebraska Press, 1964); W. M. Johnston, The Austrian Mind. An Intellectual and Social History, 
1848-1938 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), Allan Janik & Stephen Toulmin, 
Wittgenstein's Vienna (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973), Laszlo Matrai, Alapjdt vesztett 

felepitmeny [Superstructure Without Base] (Budapest: Magveto, 1976), Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de- 
Siecle Vienna. Politics and Culture (New York: Knopf, 1980), Kristof Nyiri, A Monorchia 
szellemi eleterol. Filozofiatorteneti tanulmdnyok [The Intellectual Life of the Monarchy. Studies in 
the History of Philosophy] (Budapest: Gondolat, 1980), J. C. Nyiri, Am Rande Europas. Studien 
zur dsterreichisch-ungarischen Philosophiegeschichte (Wien: Bohlau, 1988), Wien um 1900. 
Kunst und Kultur (Wien-Munchen: Brandstatter, 1985), John Lukacs, Budapest 1900. A Historical 
Portrait of a City and Its Culture (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988), Peter Hanak, The 
Garden and the Workshop: Essays in the Cultural History of Vienna and Budapest (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1998). 

77 For his autobiography see Joseph Szigeti, With Strings Attached. Reminiscences and Reflections 
(New York: Knopf, 1947; 2nd ed. 1967), pp. 28-30. 

Tibor Frank 

in Vienna and Budapest, which he had received from his Budapest professor 
Hubay. The example of Szigeti is relevant in demonstrating the strong links 
between the old Music Academy tradition and the musical philosophy of the post- 
World War I generation. 

In an effort to describe the tradition of the European chamber music 
tradition as well as his own roots, Szigeti wrote „[...] I felt that these notes might 
interest the listener of our days who has been to a great extent deprived of the real 
»habitat« of chamber music: the small Hall and — better still — the music room in 
which the congenial few gather around the players in rapt concentration. I was in 
my late teens when I turned pages at a rehearsal of the d minor Sonata. Leopold 
Godowsky and [my master] Jeno Hubay [rehearsed it] in preparation for their 
concert in Budapest, some twenty years after [Brahms had brought the pencil 
manuscript of his work to my master Hubay for] this Vienna »try-out« [...] One 
has reason to feel grateful for having been born at a time when these sonatas were 
still a comparative rarity, when [their performances presupposed mature players 
and] they had not yet become class room »material« and grateful »vehicles« for 
debut recitals. There were at the time a dozen-or-so recordings from which the 
student could choose his »model«; [...] As the rare live performances he heard 
were mostly by mature interpreters and took place in halls of modest proportions 
(world famous performers like Ysaye, Sarasate, d'Albert, Busoni played in 
Vienna's Bosendorfer Saal, in the old Paris Salle Pleyel in the rue Rochechouart 
seating barely 4 or 500, in the small »Royal« Hall in Budapest), the intimate 
chamber-music characteristics of these sonatas were brought home to him [...] 
Hubay told me at the time how much these fine points meant to Brahms, how 


literally he took his marking[s] ..." 

Szigeti mastered nearly the entire classical violin repertoire, and yet he 
became one of the few leading soloists in the world who was attracted to 
contemporary music. He even began to play the solo sonatas by Bach at the 
instigation of Milan Fust, a modernist poet who was his Budapest friend in their 
young days and became one of the leading spirits of the modernist movement in 
Hungarian literature and aesthetics. For Szigeti, the living tradition of late 19th 
century music in Budapest and Vienna also implied the inclusion of contemporary 
music. This became evident from the beginning, as Otto Eckermann carefully 
observed as early as 1922, stating, "Mr Szigeti is one of the few violinists who 
always brings novelties [...], and he commissioned me to look for appropriate 


new works." Szigeti was always eager to learn new things and to understand 

78 Joseph Szigeti, "Jacket Notes for a Columbia Brahms Sonata Album," Circa 1955?, In Szigeti's 
handwriting, Boston University, Mugar Memorial Library, Joseph Szigeti Papers. Deleted parts 
appear in brackets. 

79 "Joseph Szigeti, Pioneer in Violin Programming," Unfinished MS, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 1, 
Folder 4, p. 2. 

80 Otto Eckermann to Kurt Atterberg, June 24, 1922, quoted in Kurt Atterberg to Joseph Szigeti, 
Stockholm, July 28, 1958, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 1, Folder 4. [English translation of a 
German translation by Kurt Atterberg.] 


Tibor Frank 

music from the composers' point of view. "If we concede — as I am inclined to 
do — an important role to this auto -suggestive faculty in our work, what better 

o 1 

schooling in it than commence with new works and their composers?" 

At 80, he was awarded the George Washington Award of the American 
Hungarian Studies Foundation for identifying "himself with the new, untried and 
progressive," giving of himself "unstintingly so that a significant new voice in 


music might be heard." More contemporary composers of all nationalities 
dedicated their work to Szigeti, or were commissioned by him, than perhaps any 
other contemporary soloist. He readily lent the power of his charisma to 
Hungarians such as Bela Bartok, Pal Kadosa, Antal Molnar, Americans like 
George Templeton Strong, Russians such as Nikita Magaloff and Sergei 
Prokofiev, the Armenian Aram Khachaturian, Irishmen like Sir Hamilton Harty, 
Englishmen like Alan Rawsthorne, the Italian Alfredo Casella, the Lithuanian- 
Jewish Joseph Achron, the Swiss Ernest Bloch, and the Polish Alexander 
Tansman, often at an early stage in their careers when his support was especially 
beneficial. He considered it important to keep a whole series of contemporary 
music on his program, such as work by the Polish Karol Szymanowski, the French 
Albert Roussel and Darius Milhaud, the Roumanian Filip Lazar, the Russian Igor 
Stravinsky, the Italians Ferruccio Busoni and Ildebrando Pizzetti, as well as the 
Englishmen Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Arnold Bax, and, later, the American 
David Diamond, Charles Cadman, and Henry Cowell. He also worked in close 
collaboration with both Paul Hindemith and Igor Stravinsky. In this respect, 
Szigeti resembled Hungarian- American conductor Fritz Reiner who had a similar 
reputation for playing a lot of new Hungarian music such as that of Bela Bartok, 


Ernst von Dohnanyi and Leo Weiner. In what was probably early 1922, Szigeti 
played Dohnanyi 's Violin Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra 
conducted by Reiner. 86 

There was a great deal of the Liszt tradition continuing in these gestures. 
Szigeti often invited composers to appear in recital with him performing their own 
work "thus creating a little oasis in a recital program where the composer and not 
the reproducing artist is the center of interest." In the 1950s, he repeated a 

81 "Joseph Szigeti, Pioneer in Violin Programming," op. cit. p. 43. 

a Diploma of the George Washington Award, April 19, 1972, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 4, 

Folder 3. 

83 Szigeti assisted by Nikita de Magaloff. Programme for June 13, 1935, Queen's Hall, London. 
Inside: A Few Contemporary Works from Szigeti's Repertoire. Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 2, 
Folder 1. See also V. Bazykin to Herbert Barrett, November 12, 1943, on Aram Khachaturian, 
Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 1, Folder 3. Szigeti added to Bazykin's signature in pencil: "in the 
meanwhile, he became Ambassador." 

84 Joseph Szigeti Memorial Exhibition, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 6, Folder 2. 

85 Philip Hart, Fritz Reiner. A Biography (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1994), pp. 
23, 195, 225. Cf. Rollin R. Potter, "Fritz Reiner: Conductor, Teacher, Musical Innovator" (Ph.D. 
Thesis, Northwestern University, 1980). 

86 Philip Hart, Fritz Reiner. A Biography, op. cit., p. 23. 

87 "Joseph Szigeti, Pioneer in Violin Programming," op. cit., p. 5. 

Tibor Frank 

number of series entitled "20th Century Cycles" in several U.S. universities and 
music centers, 88 which he recalled as a "pleasure evening series of eleven 
contemporary master-pieces, entitled 'Sonatas of the 20th Century.' I gave this 
series about fifteen times on different campuses in America and also in Zurich and 


over the Italian Radio in 1959. I recorded it for the Swedish Radio." In cases 
where he could not promote a contemporary work himself, he did everything in 
his power to make other artists interested, for example, in the case of Gian 
Francesco Malipiero's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, which he showed "to 
my friend, Maestro George Szell," as well as to Leopold Stokowski in New York 
and Henri Barraud at the Radio Diffusion Francaise in Paris. 

By carrying the tradition of an active interest in the contemporary, Szigeti 
made an example to his entire generation throughout a long and productive life. 
As Manoug Parikian saluted him in The Royal Academy of Music Magazine on his 
80th birthday in 1972 „A11 this would seem commonplace in these days of over- 
consciousness of contemporary music; in the 1920s and 1930s, in the midst of 
virtuoso-type recitals and endless repetitions of the same five or six concertos it 
was a brave crusade. His deep knowledge and understanding of the spirit of Bach, 
Mozart and Beethoven was as important as his search for new music." 91 

In the U.S., Szigeti's delayed popularity has been attributed to the slow 
growth of intellectual sophistication in American audiences. His was a long and 
tedious journey toward making contemporary music recognized there. His 
pioneering efforts in front of select audiences of metropolitan music halls, 
enterprising campus groups, and on elitist radio programs, were often unnoticed 
or not remembered. He was often criticized for his programming. "Playing the 
Roussel Sonata No. 2, once lost Szigeti a prospective manager who heard him 
perform at Carnegie Hall. Modern composers do not sell programs, Szigeti was 
promptly informed. Recalling this incident Szigeti wrote, 'needless to say I was 
entreated once again to mend my already notoriously incorrigible ways of 
programming.'" Yet, his pioneering efforts led to breakthroughs even in the U.S. 
where his philosophy of musical programming came through triumphantly: when 
playing the world premiere of the Bloch Concerto in Cleveland in 1938; Bartok's 
Contrasts with Benny Goodman and the composer in Carnegie Hall in 1939; 
Prokofiev's Sonata in D, op. 94 in Boston in 1944 and his F minor, op. 80 in San 

Joseph Szigeti to Ralph Vaughan Williams, April 10, 1957, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 1, Folder 

89 Joseph Szigeti to Michael Kennedy, Baugy s/Clarens, February 11, 1965, Joseph Szigeti Papers, 
Box 1, Folder 4. 

90 Carisch S. p. A., Milano, to Joseph Szigeti, Milano, January 14, 1958, and Joseph Szigeti to 
Carisch S. p. A., Palos Verdes Estates, CA, January 25, 1958, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 1, Folder 

91 Manoug Parikian, 'A birthday tribute to Joseph Szigeti," The Royal Academy of Music 
Magazine, [1972], Joseph Szigeti Papers. 

92 "Joseph Szigeti, Pioneer in Violin Programming," op. cit. p. 5. 


Tibor Frank 

Francisco in 1946; and the U.S. premiere of Prokofiev's Concerto in D and the 
Ravel Sonata. 

For Bela Bartok, a contemporary composer self-exiled in the U.S., Szigeti 
did more than perhaps anybody else between 1940 and 1945. Their friendship 
started in the 1920s, and they toured together in Berlin in 1930. Szigeti used his 
connections to make Bartok' s music available and popular to audiences in the 
U.S. He appeared with Bartok in recitals at the Library of Congress and played 
with the newly-arrived Hungarian composer in 1940 at Carnegie Hall. He was in 
touch with leading U.S. conductors such as Leopold Stokowski and tried to get 
Bartok' s American compositions performed. Szigeti was one of the loyal 
supporters of Bartok during his last illness and tactfully helped the poor, though 
proud, composer receive help from wealthy patrons like Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague 
Coolidge in 1943. He was ready to be at Bartok' s disposal to the very last when 
the terminally ill composer requested his help to interest conductors in his third 
Piano Concerto, the last he composed. After Bartok' s death, Szigeti served as 
one of the trustees on the board of the Bartok Archives in New York. * 

Joseph Szigeti lived most of his adult life abroad, though he visited 
Hungary regularly to the end of his life, except for a gap after World War II. 
Throughout, Szigeti maintained excellent relations with Hungarian musicians and 
helped a number of them start their own careers. He was glad to be associated 
with Hungarian causes, and, along with Arthur Koestler and Nobel Laureate 
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, was acknowledged by honorary membership in the 
Association of Hungarian Authors in Foreign Countries, located in London, right 
after the revolution of 1956. He was instrumental in launching the career of 


cellist Janos Starker at the Indiana University School of Music. Newcomers 
from post-1945 Hungary such as pianist-conductor Tamas Vasary were glad to 


register their homage to the maitre. Szigeti found it important to publish his 
autobiography in Hungarian, thinking that "this new Hungarian intelligentsia 
should get to know me a little." He asked Hungarian-American diplomat Andor 
C. Klay how he felt about it and Klay's answer was most enthusiastic :„I have 
found that they know about you to a degree which is surprising in the light of your 

93 Ibid., pp. 6-7. 

Ibid.; Agatha Fassett, The Naked Face of Genius: Bela Bartok' s American Years (Boston: 
Houghton Mifflin, 1958); Agatha Fassett, Bela Bartok — The AmericanYears (New York: Dover 
Publications, 1970). 

95 Victor Bator to Joseph Szigeti, New York City, February 18, 1963, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 
1, Folder 4. 

96 Joseph Szigeti to Magyar Irok Szovetsege, Celigny (Geneva), November 17, 1958, Joseph 
Szigeti Papers, Box 1, Folder 4. 

97 Joseph Szigeti to Wilfred C. Bain, Palos Verdes Estates, CA, January 22, 1958, Joseph Szigeti 
Papers, Box 1, Folder 4. 

98 Tamas Vasary to Joseph Szigeti, Chardonne, October 26, 1960, Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 1, 
Folder 4. 

99 Andor [C] Klay to Joseph Szigeti, American Embassy, Belgrade, March 3, 1960, Joseph Szigeti 
Papers, Box 1, Folder 4. 

Tibor Frank 

long absence from Hungary and their long years of isolation from the West. I 
recall examples from Camp Kilmer when I visited there in order to select some 
refugees to form a delegation which could be presented to the President and the 
Secretary. I raised various questions, ranging from the political to the cultural, in 
order to gauge their range of knowledgeability. Your name was repeatedly 

Szigeti always tried to include Hungarian pieces in his U.S. programs and 
even his most popular ones such as the People's Symphony Concerts on CBS, 
included a Scene de la Csdrda by his master Jeno Hubay, Rhapsody in C by Ernst 
von Dohnanyi and a piece by Bartok played with the composer. 

"New Vision:" Laszlo Moholy-Nagy 

Comparable in many ways to the achievement of Szigeti in the performing 
arts was the New Vision of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), a dramatic 
testimony to the significance and range of the modernist contribution in the visual 
arts from Hungary. Coming from the same generation of Jewish Hungarians, 
Moholy-Nagy was probably the most versatile of the Hungarian artists, being an 
architect, photographer, designer, prolific author, and filmmaker. 102 Along with 
fellow-Hungarian Marcel Breuer, he was a founding member of the Bauhaus 
school, first in Germany and later, in 1937, in Chicago. Moholy became a pioneer 
in diverse fields such as non-figurative geometric art, kinetic sculpture, 
typographical design, as well as in photography. Bauhaus founder and lifelong 
friend Walter Gropius characterized Moholy-Nagy's abstract art, his "new 
vision," in musical terms at the opening of the Moholy-Nagy Exhibition at 
"London Galleries," in 1936, providing one of the most lucid and rational 
explanations of abstract art ever given. 

„You know that musical work, a composition, consists, just like painting, 
of form and content. But its form is only in part a product of the composer, for in 
order to make his musical ideas comprehensible to any third person, he is obliged 
to make use of counterpoint which is nothing more than a conventional agreement 
to divide the world of sound into certain intervals according to fixed laws. These 
laws of counterpoint, of harmony, vary among different peoples and in different 
centuries, but the changes are very slow [...] In earlier days the optical arts also 
had firm rules, a counterpoint regulating the use of space. The academies for art 
which had the task of keeping up and developing these rules, lost them — and art 
decayed. Here the abstract painters of our day took up the threads and used their 

100 Andor [C] Klay to Joseph Szigeti, American Embassy, Belgrade, March 3, 1960, loc. cit. 

101 Columbia Concerts Corporation of CBS to Joseph Szigeti, New York, December 31, 1940, 
Joseph Szigeti Papers, Box 1, Folder 3. 

102 Moholy-Nagy's films, lesser known today, included Berlin Still Life (1926), Marseille vieux 
port (1929), Lightplay: Black, White, Gray (1930), Gypsies (1932). 


Tibor Frank 

creative powers to conquer a new statutory law of space. This new counterpoint of 
space, a new vision, is the core of their achievement." 103 

Gropius described Moholy-Nagy's entire work as „a mighty battle to 
prepare the way for a new vision, in that he attempts to extend the boundaries of 
painting and to increase the intensity of light in the picture by the use of new 
technical means, thus approximating nearer to nature. Moholy has observed and 
registered light with the eye of the camera and the film camera, from the 
perspective of the frog and the bird, has tried to master impressions of space and 
thus developed in his paintings a new conception of space." 04 

Moholy-Nagy was a most intense and insightful observer of the "modern" 
world of the 1920s and 1930s. Like the best of his generation, he went far into the 
visual exploration of form, construction, spacial relationships, and light effects. 105 
"We might call the scope of his contribution "Leonardian," so versatile and 
colorful has it been," said Walter Gropius in eulogizing him at his Chicago funeral 
in 1946. "His greatest effort as an artist was devoted to the conquest of pictorial 
space, and he commanded his genius to venture into all realms of science and art 
to unriddle the phenomena of space. In painting, sculpture and architecture, in 
theater and industrial design, in photography and film, in advertising and 
typography, he constantly strove to interpret space in its relationship to time, that 

.- • ,,107 

is motion in space. 

What Gropius attempted to explain particularly was the source of Moholy- 
Nagy's modernism, the basis of his deep and enthusiastic interest in anything new. 
„Constantly developing new ideas, he managed to keep himself in a stage of 
unbiased curiosity from where a fresh point of view could originate. With a 
shrewd sense of observation he investigated everything that came his way, taking 
nothing for granted, but using his acute sense for the organic. [...] Here I believe 
was the source of his priceless quality as an educator, namely his never ceasing 
power to stimulate and to carry away the other fellow with his own enthusiasm. 
What better can true education achieve than setting the student's mind in motion 
by that contagious magic?" 

Just as many other contemporary artists of the early 20th century 
represented varied brands of modernism, Moholy was described as a technical 
pioneer "who was fascinated and stirred by the dynamic pace of the machine age. 
His elan vital thrived on the tempo and the motorized rhythm of big-city life." 1 

103 Walter Gropius, "Speech for the Opening of the Moholy-Nagy Exhibition at 'London 
Galleries,'" December 31, 1936, Walter Gropius Papers, Harvard University Libraries, The 
Houghton Library, bMS Ger 208 (5). 

104 Gropius, "Speech," December 31, 1936, op. cit. 

105 Eleanor Margaret Hight, "Moholy-Nagy: The Photography and the 'New Vision' in Weimar 
Germany," Harvard University Ph. D. Thesis, 1986, p. 238. 

106 Walter Gropius, "Eulogy for Ladislaus Moholy-Nagy," Chicago, November 1946, Walter 

Gropius Papers, bMS Ger 208 (86). 


Gropius, "Eulogy," op. cit. 

109 Eberhard Roters, Painters of the Bauhaus (New York — Washington: Praeger, 1969), p. 165. 

Tibor Frank 

He deeply believed in the new unity of art and technology. The big European 
and American metropoles exerted an unmistakably "modern" influence and left a 
lasting imprint on his whole generation. An important aspect of Moholy's life was 
the big city, the continuous mechanization of the world and human life with it. For 
him, modern man's structure was mechanical, "the synthesis of all his functional 
mechanisms." "Man is unique in the insatiability of his functional mechanisms, 
which hungrily absorb every new impression and never cease to crave for more. 
This is one reason for the continuing need for the creation of new forms," as he 

1 1 9 

explained in Malerei, Photographie, Film. As an artistic expression of his 
functionalist artistic philosophy, Moholy-Nagy experimented with what he called 
the "space modulator," a pioneering optical-kinetic sculpture pointing towards a 
new art form. Others of his ideas contributed to new branches of knowledge such 
as cybernetics and semantics. 

Experimentation was fundamental throughout Moholy's life, starting with 
his participation in the Ma [Today] group in Budapest, and his cooperation with 
the Hungarian modernist artist and author Lajos Kassak. But it was in Germany, 
in the early Bauhaus period, that his experimenting vitality blossomed and young 
Moholy became particularly productive. 

A primary example is his discovery of creative photography as a new 
artistic discipline. He became convinced that photography came to replace 
painting in representing reality. In his painting, he was striving for "organized 
order." In his photography he proved to be a superb master of new techniques, but 
his photographs became artistically significant through "his completely novel and 
individual manner of looking at familiar things — the use of bold foreshortening, 
unusual angles, and superimposed light-dark structures, such as the shadow of a 
net or a fence." His growing reputation made movie director Sir Alexander 
Korda request that he do the special effects for his The Shape of Things to Come, 
based on a 1933 work of science fiction by the popular British author H. G. Wells. 

His experimental photography gave fresh impetus to advertising 
techniques. To this end, he renewed the art and technology of typography in order 
to create a new form for communicating messages. He argued that "printing 
processes had not undergone a significant change, either technically or 
aesthetically, since Gutenberg's time, and that the printed image should be made 
lively and interesting and should be brought up to date to make it worthy of the 
twentieth century." 11 Here again, his innovative spirit was preoccupied with 
modern technology and the use of machines. 

Opportunities for innovations in typography are constantly developing, 
based on the growth of photography, film, zincographic and galvanoplastic 

110 Eberhard Roters, op. cit., pp. 164-165. 

111 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Malerei, Photographie, Film (Miinchen, 1925) p. 23, quoted by 
Eberhard Roters, op. cit., p. 165. 

112 Moholy-Nagy, Malerei, quoted by Roters, op. cit., p. 165. 

113 Eberhard Roters, op. cit., p. 171. 

114 Ibid., p. 172. 


Tibor Frank 

techniques. The invention and improvement of photogravure, photographic 
typesetting machines, the birth of neon advertising, the experience of optical 
continuity provided by the cinema, the simultaneity of sensory experiences — all 
these developments open the way for an entirely new standard of optical 
typographic excellence; in fact, they demand it." 115 

Though Moholy-Nagy in his American years continued to do the 
experimental art of his German Bauhaus period and gradually became a very 
influential teacher of its ideas, like Szigeti, he had a long fight for recognition in 
the United States. The idea to invite him came from his mentor Walter Gropius, 
then Chairman of the Department of Architecture at Harvard, who had worked out 
details with the people in Chicago. For Moholy, this sounded like intellectual 
salvation, as in London he had bitterly complained that "from a spiritual point of 
view one can reach here nothing or only the minimum and that every stimulus and 
every excitement is missing." He was anxious to get back and work in a school 
just as in the old days of the Bauhaus. Now the chances were good for being able 
to develop an American version of the Bauhaus in Chicago and Moholy eagerly 
answered, "for plan highly interested [ — ] please send more details." 117 

His friend Walter Gropius, then 60, was optimistic about the U.S. 
environment. He called America a "pleasant continent," and gave details about 
the Chicago plans which were based on the money of department store millionaire 
Marshall Field and located in one of his buildings. One of the crucial points of 
Moholy-Nagy's candidacy was his strong relationship with British and German 
industry, and firms like Simpson and International Textile. Important people such 
as biologist and educator Julian Huxley provided references. u 

After what he labelled "diesen enervierenden kleinkram hier" [these 
enervating odds and ends], Moholy was eager to leave Britain and relocate, as it 
were, the Bauhaus spirit in Chicago. "Everything calls here for a better design in 
industry," said Gropius underlining the nature of the new job he helped to find for 
Moholy. He planned four classes in industrial art, in metal, wood, "typo-photo- 
film (commercial graphic)," and textile. Gropius suggested that he would "be 

1 9 1 

given free hand to develop the thing in a direction as you like fit." He also 

115 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, "Zeitgemasse Typographic — Ziele, Praxis, Kritik," in Offset, Buch und 
Werbekunst, No. 7 (Leipzig: [Bauhaus,] 1926). Quoted by Eberhard Roters, op. cit, p. 173. 
11 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Walter and Ise Gropius, London, May 28, 1937, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). — Keeping with the Bauhaus tradition, Moholy did not capitalize in 
his correspondence. 

118 Walter Gropius to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, [Cambridge, MA,] June 1, 1937, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

119 Walter Gropius to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, [Cambridge, MA,] June 10, 1937, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

1 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Walter and Ise Gropius, London, June 13, 1937, Walter Gropius 

Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

121 Walter Gropius to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, [Cambridge, MA,] June 10, 1937, he. cit. 

Tibor Frank 

thought Moholy could put together his faculty as he pleased, and the opportunity 
to start from scratch seemed to have particular advantages. 

Moholy put enormous energies into what became "the new bauhaus — 
American School of Design, founded by the Association of Arts and Industries." 
First he had to fight for the very name Bauhaus itself, for he thought that since the 
Americans had adapted Weltanschauung, they might as well use the term 

1 99 

Bauhaus. Immediately, he wanted to become part of the Bauhaus exhibition of 

1 9^ 

the Museum of Modern Art at Rockefeller Center in New York. He also 
intended to continue the old Bauhaus book series, particularly as the Nazi 
takeover had closed the German market for Bauhaus publications. He shared, 
however, the opinion of Gropius who saw great potential in bringing over the 
Bauhaus to the U.S., but considered it essential to adapt its methods to the country 

1 9S 

and to the character of its people. 

1 96 

The new bauhaus was finally opened in Chicago on October 18, 1937. 
Moholy was pleased with his first experiences which he found interesting, 
particularly as he had earlier considered the Americans not clever enough; soon he 
had to realize how mistaken he had been. "Their intellectual standard, the quick 
copying of the facts is fascinating. Only their capacity of experiences must be 
enlarged, I think. They eat knowledge really with the spoon, with large, real, 


round soup spoons." He persuaded some of the best available people to join his 
faculty, including Archipenko for modeling, David Dushkin for music, the 
journalist Howard Vincent O'Brien to lecture on "the meaning of culture," as well 
as three professors of the University of Chicago, Charles W. Morris to teach 
"intellectual integration," Ralph W. Girard for life sciences, and Carl Eckart for 
physical sciences. "[George] Kepes will arrive, with all the gods' help, in the 
middle of November," he added to the list. 

The first school year was academically successful. At its end, however, 
they experienced financial difficulties to an extent that Moholy-Nagy was advised 
by the Association of Arts and Industries to tell his faculty that if they were 
offered other positions "they should take them because the Association's financial 
position made it probable that we would not open next semester." Moholy- 

122 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Ise and Walter Gropius, Chicago, July 31, 1937, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

123 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Ise and Walter Gropius, July 24, 1937; Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Alfred 
H. Barr, Chicago, September 15, 1937, [English original], Walter Gropius Papers, bMS Ger 208 

124 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Alfred H. Barr, Chicago, September 15, 1937, loc. cit. 

125 Walter Gropius to [?] Kruger, [Cambridge, MA,] [October, 1937], Walter Gropius Papers, bMS 
Ger 208 (1221). 

126 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Walter Gropius, Chicago, October 20, 1937, Walter Gropius Papers, 
bMS Ger 208 (1221). [English original]. 

1 7 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Ise and Walter Gropius, Chicago, August 12, 1937, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

128 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Walter Gropius, Chicago, October 20, 1937, loc. cit. 

129 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to The Executive Committee, Association of Arts & Industries, Chicago, 
August 16, 1938, Walter Gropius Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). [English original]. 


Tibor Frank 

Nagy felt especially bitter about experiencing a typical emigre situation: "After I 
and my teachers were asked by the Association of Arts and Industries to come to 
this country and after we have shown every possible amount of good will, the 
reason why she [Miss Stahle of the Association] could not raise money for the 

1 -5 A 

school was the resentment against foreigners in this country." The school 
started to disintegrate: teachers were dismissed, equipment became less and less 
available. Moholy felt he had to look for other sponsors and get out of the 
Association. Gropius called the story "the first case of Chicago gangsterism that 
we experienced in actual fact," and tried to use his prestige to help. Moholy 
thought "America was always a country of pioneers and there is no doubt my next 
time will be a justification of this term." He felt compelled to fight for survival. 
"Now sometimes I think why is to fight? As stranger in a foreign country! But I 
found such a great enthusiasm everywhere I go for the Bauhaus that I think it 
would be a pity to drop it. Also the last year I felt that I grew really, more and 
quicker than in the past 5 years all together." Oddly enough, he felt at home and 
wrote most of his letters, even the ones to Gropius, increasingly in English. 

At Christmas 1938, the situation was still unchanged and Moholy's wife 
Sybill complained bitterly to Mr. and Mrs. Gropius, "Es ist immer und immer die 
alte schmutzige geschichte mit ihnen..." [It is always and always the old dirty 
story with them. . .]" Moholy himself wrote a long letter to The New York Times 
and gave a detailed story of their humiliation. Soon he was able to gather enough 
support to open the school again, under a new name, School of Design, at a new 
address, starting February 22, 1939. The "Sponsors' Committee" included 
distinguished names such as the noted American art historian Alfred H. Barr, Jr., 
Walter Gropius, and Julian Huxley. He was able to offer a summer course in 1940 
and a series of evening lectures in 1939-1940. 

By Christmas 1939, the storm was over, and Moholy confidently reported 
to Gropius, "Indeed the school looks fine. We have much more and better 
machines and equipment than we had on Prairie Avenue and as good luck, my 
public lecture on "The New Vision and Photography" drew about two hundred 
and twenty people and was very well received." He was also able to secure a 
grant of $10,000 from the Carnegie Foundation and another $7,500 somewhat 


131 Walter Gropius to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, [Cambridge, MA,] August 19, 1938, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

132 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Walter Gropius, Chicago, August 19, 1938, Walter Gropius Papers, 
bMS Ger 208 (1221). [English original]. 

133 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Walter Gropius, [Chicago?] November 15, 1938, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 ( 1 22 1 ) [English original] . 

134 Sybill Moholy-Nagy to Ise and Walter Gropius, Chicago, December 24, 1938, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

135 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Walter Gropius, Chicago, December 21, 1939, Walter Gropius Papers, 
bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

Tibor Frank 

later, which were major triumphs. 1 He planned to invite Stravinsky to lecture 
and perform at the School. By March 1, 1942, the School had 120 students "which 
is absolutely wonderful as it is 2% more than last semester and so many art 
schools and colleges have lost rather than gained students." 

The School was blossoming when leukemia claimed Moholy's life in 
1946. ' Robert J. Wolff commented on the book by Sybill Moholy-Nagy on her 
husband, "Laszlo Moholy-Nagy will perhaps be best remembered as the man who 
not only helped to formulate one of the most vital manifestos of our time, but 
who, unlike many of his brilliant Bauhaus colleagues, had the power and the faith 
to fight to the point of death for the social implementation of the brave young 
words of the original Bauhaus documents." 

136 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Charles W. Morris, Chicago, February 8, 1940, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy 
to Ise and Walter Gropius, Chicago, August 13, 1941, Walter Gropius Papers, bMS Ger 208 

137 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Mr and Mrs Walter Gropius, Chicago, March 9, 1942, Walter Gropius 
Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

138 Moholy's last available 
optimistic. Walter Gropius Papers, bMS Ger 208 (1221). 

139 Robert J. Wolff on 
Harper & Bros., 1950). 

138 Moholy's last available report on the school is dated September 27, 1943, and is most 

139 Robert J. Wolff on Sybill Moholy-Nagy, Moholy-Nagy: Experiment in Totality (New York: 


Michael L. Miller 

Michael L. Miller 

Numerus clausus exiles: Hungarian Jewish students in 
inter-war Berlin 

In September 1919, following the collapse of the short-lived Hungarian 
Soviet Republic, two brothers, Leo and Bela, went to the register at Budapest's 
Technical University, but they were stopped by a throng of students, one of whom 
yelled, "You can't study here. You're Jews." Leo protested, saying, "We're 
Calvinists, not Jews, and have the papers to prove it." But this only angered the 
students more, and they rushed at the two brothers, kicking them as they crawled 
and tumbled down the broad marble steps. Afterwards, Leo applied for an exit 
visa to study abroad, eventually leaving for Berlin, where he continued his studies 
at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University). Leo remained in Berlin 
until the Nazi seizure of power, then emigrated to the United States, where he 
went on to become a "father of the atom bomb." 1 This tale of Leo Szilard's last 
months in Budapest is indicative of the anti -Jewish climate in 1919 that led many 
young Hungarian Jews (or Jewish converts) to pursue their studies abroad. In the 
following year, the post-revolutionary government, in one of its first legislative 
acts, passed the numerus clausus law, which "produced a break with the tolerant, 
secular policies of Hungary's pre-1914 governments." 

Overcrowding, antisemitism and the numerus clausus 

In Hungary, the dissolution of the Austro -Hungarian Monarchy was 
followed by a quick succession of governments: first, the Hungarian Democratic 
Republic under Count Mihaly Karolyi (October 1918 - March 1919); then, the 
Hungarian Soviet Republic under Commissar Bela Kun (March - August 1919); 
and finally, the reconstituted Kingdom of Hungary (1920-1944) under the regency 
of Admiral Miklos Horthy (1920-1944). The Hungarian Soviet Republic was 
often denigrated as the "Judeo-Bolshevik Commune," due to the preponderance of 
Jews among its leadership, and many Jews were forced to pay the price for the 
Red Terror and other crimes committed during the Soviet Republic. Indeed, the 
White Terror of 1919-1920, which sought to avenge the Red Terror, targeted 
leftists and Jews alike, often assuming the character of anti-Jewish pogroms in the 

1 Details taken from William Lanouette and Bela Silard, Genius in the Shadows: a biography of 
Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). 

2 On the emigration of many leftist Hungarian intellectuals after the fall of the Soviet Republic, see 
Lee Congdon, Exile and Social Thought: Hungarian Intellectuals in Germany and Austria, 1919- 
1933 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991). 

Maria M. Kovacs, Liberal Professions and Illiberal Politics: Hungary from the Habsburgs to the 
Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994). 

Michael L. Miller 

Hungarian countryside. Many Hungarian Jews sought temporary refuge in Vienna 
and elsewhere during this tempestuous period. In total, the White Terror claimed 
the lives of roughly two thousand people, many of them Jews. 

In the Horthy era, Hungarian nationalism took a decidedly antisemitic turn, 
and "Judeo-Bolsheviks" were increasingly cast as a treasonous enemy that had 
brought about all of Hungary's ills, including the Red Terror in 1919 and the 
Treaty of Trianon in 1920. The Treaty of Trianon, which was signed at Versailles 
on June 4, 1920, officially dismembered Hungary, transferring three-quarters of 
its pre-war territory and two-thirds of its pre-war population to Romania, 
Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and even Austria. Along with the loss of territory, 
Hungary lost most of its national minorities (Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs, etc.), 
leaving the Jews as the most visible "other" in an increasingly homogeneous state. 
Christian nationalism, which was ascendant in the 1920s, viewed the Jewish 
"spirit" as foreign - and antithetical - to the Christian Hungarian spirit. This 
became apparent in the discourse surrounding the numerus clausus law of 1920. 

On September 22, 1920, the Hungarian National Assembly passed a 
numerus clausus law, with the ostensible aim of reducing the overcrowding in 
Hungary's universities. The influx of many Hungarian-speakers from Romania, 
Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as the closing down of the Hungarian 
universities in Kolozsvar (Cluj, Romania) and Pozsony (Bratislava, 
Czechoslovakia) — which had belonged to pre-Trianon Hungary — placed an 
enormous strain on Hungary's institutions of higher learning, particularly on the 
various universities in Budapest. But the numerus clausus law, which established 
a quota system for Hungary's universities based on the proportion of individual 
races (nepfaj) and nationalities (nemzetiseg) in the general population, had a 
clearly antisemitic intent. Jews constituted only 6% of Hungary's general 
population, but almost 3% of its university students and as much as 5% of its 
medical students. Christian nationalists, who viewed universities as "workshops 
of genius," saw the overrepresentation of Jews as the "de-Christianization of 
Hungary" and considered the numerus clausus a necessary form of "racial self- 
defense." 4 As such, the Hungarian numerus clausus was the first piece of 
antisemitic legislation in post-war Europe. 

"The numerus clausus exiles" 

Like Leo Szilard, many Hungarian students "of Jewish origin" responded 
to the antisemitic climate by pursuing their higher education abroad. Hungarian 
Jewish students initially flocked to German-language universities and 
polytechnics in the former Habsburg Empire. Vienna's universities, attended by 
numerous Hungarian students in the decades before World War I, continued to 
attract students from the former Habsburg lands, including more than 700 

4 Ibid. 


Michael L. Miller 

Hungarian Jews in 1922 alone. 5 Nonetheless, as the young Arthur Koestler could 
readily attest, the atmosphere was not always hospitable to these Hungarian Jews. 
In 1922, when he inquired about the admissions procedure at Vienna's Technische 
Hochschule, he was "told in confidence that it is very difficult as a Hungarian and 
even more as a Jew to be accepted." Among the students at Prague's German 
Technische Hochschule, there were allegedly 600 Hungarian Jews in 1920 and 
1,100 in 1921. 7 Here, the Hungarian Jewish students could temporarily experience 
the pivotal role that their parents' generation had played in the nationality 
conflicts of the Habsburg Empire - with one major difference: while their parents' 
generation had bolstered the hegemonic Hungarian majority in Hungary, the 
Hungarian Jewish students in Prague now found themselves bolstering the 
beleaguered German minority. The dwindling enrollment at Prague's German 
academic institutions meant that such institutions risked being shut down by a 
relatively hostile Czechoslovak government; the influx of German-speaking 
Hungarian Jews gave institutions like the German Technische Hochschule an 
additional lease on life, but it also raised the ire of the Czechoslovak authorities. 
In the early 1920s, the police expelled a number of Hungarian Jewish students 
from Czechoslovakia, accusing them of obtaining false citizenship papers from 
their relatives in Slovakia (formerly Upper Hungary) in order to attend university. 
In Brno, where Czech-German tensions were considerably calmer than in Prague, 
somewhere between 500 and 1,000 Hungarian Jews attended institutions of higher 
education in the 1920-21 academic year, particularly the German Technische 

For many Hungarian Jews, Czechoslovak universities and polytechnics 
were merely the first station in their highly peripatetic student life, which often 
found them at two or three different institutions of higher learning in as many 
countries. After the Czechoslovak currency crashed in the early 1920s, many 
Hungarian Jewish students moved to Germany, where the celebrated universities 
- and instruction in German - were particularly appealing. The fact that some 
German universities (such as Wiirzburg) charged a supplementary fee for foreign 
students often put undue financial pressures on Hungarian Jews. By 1923, in the 
wake of the hyperinflation and general political instability, Germany became in 
increasingly inhospitable environment for foreign Jewish students, and many 
Hungarian Jews picked up their "wandering staff and moved to their next station. 
In this context, the Hungarian- Jewish newspaper Egyenloseg (equality) lamented 
the "sad, truly Jewish fate, which has chased our students from country to country, 

Pal Bethlen (ed.), A Magyar Zsidosag Almanachja: Numerus clausus, (Budapest, [1925]), pp. 

6 Letter from Arthur Koestler to his parents; quoted in David Caesarini, Arthur Koestler: The 
Homeless Mind (London: William Heimeman, 1998), 30. 

A Magyar Zsidosag Almanachja, 142-143. 
8 Ibid., 144. See also Zsido Szemle, January 7, 1921, 14. 


Michael L. Miller 

like truly modern Ahasveruses." This allusion to the legendary wandering Jew 
was a central - and rather obvious - leitmotif in the Hungarian Jewish press of the 
1920s and 1930s. 10 

While many Hungarian Jewish students left Germany for France, Italy, 
Switzerland and elsewhere, others continued to study in Weimar Germany. 11 
Berlin, in particular, remained home to a sizeable colony of Hungarian Jewish 
students until the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. Some of these students, like the 
future nuclear physicist Eugene P. Wigner, joined Leo Szilard at Berlin's 
Technische Hochschule, while others attended the world-renowned Friedrich- 
Wilhelms University (also known as Berlin University). Berlin's institutions of 
higher learning had attracted numerous Hungarian Jews (and non-Jews) prior to 
the First World War, so the influx of Hungarian Jewish students in the 1920s was, 
in some respects, a continuation of this earlier trend. However, if the data for 
Hungarian applicants to the Friedrich- Wilhelms University in 1921-22 are any 
indication, Hungary's Jews were drawn to Berlin's institutions of higher learning 
in far greater numbers than Hungary's non-Jews. Indeed, of the 32 Hungarian 
applicants for the winter semester, 23 of them, i.e. 72%, were of "mosaic" 
confession. 14 Not surprisingly, this was the first full academic year in which 
Hungarian Jews were affected by the 1920 numerus clausus law. As Dezso 
Keresztury, a student in Berlin in the 1920s, noted in his memoirs, "as a result of 
the numerus clausus, the number of Jewish university students in Berlin 

A magyar zsido diakokat kivissziik Nemetorszagbol, /We take out the Hungarian students from 
Germany/, Egyenloseg, November 17, 1923, 5. 

10 The term "wandering Jew" (bolygo zsido) was frequently used. See Egyenloseg, March 28, 
1934, 18. 

11 "Kiilonosen Nemetorszagbol vandorol tovabb sok bolygo diak, mert ott a megelhetesuk 
majdnem lehetetlen volt es ezek tobbnyire Franciaorszag es az olasz egyetemi varosokban 
igyekeznek elhelyezkedni." /"This is especially from Germany that many wandering students go 
further because their living conditions are intolerable and the move mostly to France or to Italian 
university towns"/, A Magyar Zsidosdg Almanachja, 146. 

See Andrew Szanton, The Recollections of Eugene P. Wigner as told to Andrew Szanton (New 
York and London: Plenum Press, 1992), 93. 

See Laszlo Szogi, Magyarorszdgi Didkok Nemetorszdgi Egyetemeken es Foiskoldkon 1789- 
1919, /Students from Hungary in German universities and academies, 1789-1919/, (Budapest, 
2001), 45. In the decades before World War I, an estimated 15% of the Hungarian students in 
Germany were Jews. At Berlin's Technische Hochschule, 40 out of 176 Hungarian students, i.e 
23%, were Jews. According to Victor Karady, Hungarian students abroad chose primarily 
German-speaking universities in Germany and Austria until the Nazi seizure of power. See his 
"Student Mobility and Western Universities: Patterns of Unequal Exchange in the European 
Academic Market, 1880-1939," in Transnational Intellectual Networks, edited by Charles Charle, 
Jurgen Schriewer and Peter Wagner (Frankfurt & New York: Campus Verlag, 2004), 374. 
14 Humboldt University archive (Berlin), Rektor u. Senat der Friedirch-Wilhelms-Universitat zu 
Berlin, sig. 1010. Auslander. Ubersichten iiber die bei der Universitat Berlin eingereichten Antrage 
auf Zulassung zum Studium und ministerielle Entscheidungen, die mehrere Gesuchsteller 
betreffen. Winter Semester 1921/22. Of the remaining 9 applicants, 6 were Catholic, 2 
Evangelical, and 1 Reform. For subsequent years, religion is not indicated. 


Michael L. Miller 

multiplied." 15 According to one source, 80 Hungarian Jews were studying in 
Berlin in 1925, mostly at the Technische Hochschule, but some of them at the 
Berlin Academy of Arts (Akademische Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste), as 
well. The actual number was presumably even higher. 

"Such is our suffering in Berlin ..." 

Being a student in 1920s Berlin was not all fun and games. "The student of 
the inflation period had little time for general academic pursuits," observed one 

i n 

contemporary. "He suffered under economic and academic restrictions." Some 
students were lucky enough to get one warm meal a week, which they often 
received from the Quakers, the World Student Christian Federation, or other 
charitable organizations that did their part to relieve the post-war misery and 
poverty. In order to make ends meet, students worked factory night shifts, found 
jobs as extras on film sets or played music at Berlin's places of amusement. 18 For 
Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, tales of hardship and despondency were 
legion, as were occasional reports of student suicides. 

After the numerus clausus went into effect, the Hungarian- Jewish press 
regularly featured the plight of Jewish students studying abroad and spearheaded 
fundraising drives to relieve their misery. Egyenloseg, the ultra-patriotic and anti- 
Zionist weekly of assimilated Hungarian Jewry, was at the forefront of these 
efforts, but its appeals were also echoed by Mult es Jovo (Past and Future), a 
Jewish cultural journal with Zionist sympathies, and Zsido Szemle (Jewish 
Review), an organ of the Hungarian Zionist movement. Initially, students 
received assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the 
Jewish Welfare Center in Czechoslovakia (Judische Filrsorge-Zentrale in der 
Tschechoslowakei) or the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in 
Germany, but they also relied on the largess of private individuals - often 
Hungarian Jewish emigres, such as the banker Alfred Manovill in Berlin. In 

15 Dezso Keresztury, Emlekezeseim (Budapest, 1993), 175. Thank you to Eszter Gantner for 
bringing my attention to this important memoir. 

A Magyar Zsidosag Almanachja, 144. 
Hans Ostwald, Sittengeschichte der Inflation: Ein Kulturdokument aus den Jahren 
desMarksturzes (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius Verlag, 1931), 200. 

A Magyar Zsidosag Almanachja, 145. 

19 See Kulfoldon tanulo magyar zsido diakok nyomora, /Misery of Hungarian students abroad/, 
Egyenloseg, November 20, 1920, 8; A kulfoldon tanulo zsido diaksag nyomora, /The misery of 
those studying abroad/, January 7, 1921, 14; Zsido diakok kulfoldon," /Jewish students abroad/, 
Mult es Jovo, January 21, 1921, 1 1-12. 

20 On Manovill Alfred (1880 Veszprem - 1944 Budapest), see Magyar Zsido Lexikon, 573; Ki 
kicsoda? Kortdrsak lexikona (Budapest, 1937), 529-530; Veszpremi Megyei Eletrajzi Lexikon 
(Veszprem, 1998). In 1904 Manovill moved to Berlin, where he worked for the Mendelssohn 
bank. In 1934, he returned to Budapest, where he established the Salomon J.T. es Manovill A. 
bankhdz. Manovill's philanthropic activities in Berlin are also mentioned in A Magyar Zsidosag 
Almanachja, 144. He died in the Jewish hospital, right outside of the Budapest Ghetto, on 
November 30, 1944. 1 am currently writing a biography of Manovill. 

Michael L. Miller 

most university towns, Hungarian Jewish students formed their own committees, 
which organized events on Jewish holidays, and, most importantly, solicited 
money from co-religionists back home. Egyenloseg regularly published letters 
from the committee chairmen in Vienna, Brno, Prague, Berlin, Padua, Bologna, 
Paris and elsewhere, as well as heart-wrenching descriptions of the poverty, 
hardship, illness - and physical and spiritual homelessness - suffered by the 
numerus clausus students. On July 29, 1922, it published the following report 
from Berlin: 

"The majority of the Hungarian students in Berlin came here to live 
against their will. Among them, there are very poor ones who receive nothing 
from home. . . . 

Those Hungarian students in Berlin who receive no help from home and 
would otherwise find it impossible to support themselves, receive support from 
the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). The bank director Alfred 
Manovill, president of the Berlin Hungarian Association, has a very understanding 
heart and helps them a lot; with him, the Berlin Hungarians can always find moral 
support. Without exception, all of the Berlin Hungarians are grateful to him. 
Among them, there is no one who has nothing to thank Manovill for." 

The report goes on to describe a student who committed suicide, and then 
ends on a slightly happier note, noting that the film producer Cserepy Arzen 
(1881-1958) recently hired many Hungarian students at 40 Marks a day to work 
as extras on his new film, Fridericus Rex. The point of the report was clear: 
even a little financial aid would considerably ease the hardship of these "numerus 
clausus exiles" in Berlin. 

In 1923, the Pest Jewish community came to the aid of the numerus 
clausus students by establishing the Central Student Aid Committee {Kozponti 
Diaksegito Bizottsdg), which, in its first four years alone, supported 2,440 
students in 68 towns in 8 different countries. In Germany, it supported 170 
students in 1923/24, 100 students in 1924/25, 70 students in 1925/26 and 39 
students in 1926/27. One of these students was the 23-year-old Hungarian-born 
historian Jacob Katz, who received a stipend to study in Frankfurt, Germany, in 
the late 1920s. (According to a report in Egyenloseg, of all the university towns 

A numerus clausus szamiizottjei, /Exiles of the numerus clausus/, Egyenloseg, July 29, 1922, 6. 
Cserepy Arzen was not Jewish. Siegfried Kracauer describes "Fridericus Rex" (1922) as 
"cinematically trivial." He characterized this film, which depicted the life of Frederick the Great, 
as "pure propoganda for a restoration of the monarchy." See Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to 
Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University 
Press, 2004), 115-119. 

12 A similar article, Numerus clausus, Egyenloseg, September 23, 1923, 8, begins with: "Igy 
szenvedunk Berlinben [. . .].", /"This is how we suffered in Berlin..."/. 

~ 3 Gyula Gabor, Kuzdelmeink a numerus clausus ellen, /Our combats against the numerus 
clausus/, Zsido Evkonyv (1927/28), 150-159. As the number of stipends for Germany decreased, 
the number of stipends for Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Italy increased. 

24 Jacob Katz, With My Own Eyes: The Autobiography of an Historian, translated by Ann Brenner 
and Zipora Brody (Hanover, 1995), 71. 


Michael L. Miller 

in Germany, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and Switzerland, Berlin was 
by far the most expensive.) 25 

The Committee did not limit itself to financial aid, but also sought to 
provide other kinds of support for Hungarian Jewish students abroad. In the words 
of one report, 

"The Committee does everything to ensure that the emigre students don't 
lose their ties to Hungarianness; it supports their associations, in which Hungarian 
students from the separated territories also take an active part. In fact, Christian 
students studying abroad even join the associations of our students." 26 

If the report of the Committee can be taken at face value, the Hungarian 
Jewish student colonies succeeded in preserving a Hungarian national identity, 
rooted in cultural-linguistic solidarity and transcending confessional and racial 
categories. However, the Committee's report must be taken with a grain of salt, 
especially when one considers the counter-examples in Berlin, which will be 
examined in a moment. 

"A nation 's students abroad make the best propaganda" 

In theory, the large number of Hungarian Jews studying abroad could have 
served as the avant-garde in Hungary's attempt to end its international isolation in 
the 1920s. As "a well-traveled Hungarian" wrote in 1922, "Students abroad make 
the best propaganda for their nation." He reminded his readers how Czech, 
Serbian, Romanian and Polish students abroad had "served their country's cause 
to such great effect" in the immediate aftermath of the Great War, and he 
envisioned a similar role for the thousands of Hungarians studying abroad. The 
"well-traveled Hungarian" echoed sentiments expressed by Count Kuno 
Klebelsberg, Hungary's Minister of Religion and Education from 1922 to 1932, 
and the foremost proponent of cultural diplomacy in the post-Trianon period. 

Minister Klebelsberg viewed Hungarian students and scholars as cultural 
diplomats, who could boost Hungary's reputation in the capitals of Central and 
Western Europe. As he said in a 1925 speech, "Following the disarmament of 

25 Mibe keriil egy magyar zsido diak megelhetese a kiilfoldi egyetemi varosokban, /What are the 
living costs of a Hungarian student in a foreign university town/, Egyenloseg, August 1, 1925, p. 8. 
The letminimum (minimum for survival) for Berlin was 2.000.000 magyar papirkorona 
(Hungarian paper crowns) , compared to 1.500.000 or 1.300.000 for all other German towns. 
Italian university towns were the cheapest: 1.000.000. 

A Magyar Zsidosag Almanachja, 146-147. 
11 A kiilfoldi magyar diakok hivatasa: ne gyartunk ellensegeket a sajat testvereinkbol !, /The 
mission of Hungarian students abroad. Let us not make ennemies out of our own brothers/, 
Kiilfoldi Magyarsdg, May 1, 1922, 6. 

28 On cultural diplomacy in Central Europe from the outbreak of the First World War onward, see 
Andrea Orzoff, The Myth of Czechoslovakia in Europe, 1914-1948 (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 2009); Ferenc Glatz, Klebelsberg tudomanypolitikai programja es a magyar 
tortenettudomany, /Klebelsberg 's program of science politcy/, Szdzadok (1969), 1176-1200; Peter 
Hencz, Grof Klebelsberg Kuno, a harmadik evezred minisztere (Szeged: Baba, 1999). 

Michael L. Miller 

Hungary at Trianon, the cultural portfolio has become the homeland defense 
portfolio as well. . . Today, the Hungarian motherland cannot be preserved by the 
sword, but rather by culture, and this will again make it great." Of course, the 
large number of Hungarian Jewish students forced to study abroad actually 
undermined Klebelsburg's policy, because, as the New York Times put it, the 
numerus clausus law "created abroad anti-Hungarian opinion." It also 
undermined his policy, because it marginalized and disheartened the thousands of 
Hungarian Jewish students across Europe who would have happily and 
wholeheartedly served the Hungarian cause. As the "well-traveled Hungarian" 
observed in his article, "The Calling of Hungarian Students Abroad: Let's Not 
Create Enemies out of Our Own Brothers," everything ought to be done to prevent 
"artificial and unwise aggravations" that would "directly exclude [Hungarian 
Jewish students] from service to the Hungarian cause." In other words, the 

-5 1 

"misguided" numerus clausus law ought to be repealed or revised. 

In 1921 and 1925, the League of Nations called for an inquiry as to 
whether the numerus clausus was in violation of Hungary's obligations to the 
Minority Treaties, which had come into force following the Paris Peace 
Conference of 1919. Wherever he went, Minister Klebelsberg was forced to 
defend this discriminatory measure, which he insisted was only temporary. 
(Indeed, the law was finally amended in 1928, after further pressure for the 
League of Nations.) Prior to Klebelsberg's visit to Berlin in 1926, Robert 
Gragger, director of the Hungarian Institute at the Berlin University, warned him 
that someone from the German Foreign Ministry wanted to talk with him about 
ways to quell the "international Jewish outcry" over the numerus clausus law. 
After his Berlin visit, Klebelsberg complained to his host, Prussian Minister of 
Culture and Education Carl Heinrich Becker, about the "unpleasant task" of 
always having to defend the numerus clausus law. 34 

The international outcry over the numerus clausus law distracted 
Klebelsberg from his efforts to end Hungary's cultural isolation through cultural 
diplomacy. As a means for fostering academic exchange, Klebelsberg proposed 
setting up Hungarian institutes abroad {kulfoldi magyar intezetek) in the cultural 
capitals of Europe as well as state-funded fellowships to enable Hungarian 

Kuno Klebelsberg, Klebelsberg Kuno beszedei, cikkei es torvenyjavaslatai: 1916-1926, 
/Speaches, articles and legislative propositions of Kuno Klebelsberg/, (Budapest: 1927), 516. 

30 Hungarian Minister Attacks Anti-Semitism, New York Times, November 11, 1928, 59. 

31 A kulfoldi magyar diakok hivatasa, /The mission of Hungarian students abroad/, Kulfoldi 
Magyarsdg, May 1, 1922, 6. 

32 Maria M. Kovacs,... 24-25. 

33 Orszagos Szechenyi Konyvtar Kezirattara /Manuscripts department of the hungarian National 
Library/, (Budapest), Robert Gragger — Kuno Klebelsberg correspondence, no. 11, October 12, 

34 Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin), VI. HA C.H. Becker. Letter from 
Klebelsberg to C.H. Becker, January 9, 1926. 


Michael L. Miller 

students to study at foreign universities. Not surprisingly, Klebelsberg did not 
assign a central role to Jewish students and scholars in this endeavor. 

In the early 1920s, Hungarian centers, known as Collegium Hungaricum, 
were set up in Rome, Vienna and Berlin. The Berlin Collegium Hungaricum, 
which was established in 1924, was closely connected to the Berlin Hungarian 
Association (established in 1846), which had been the focal point of the 
Hungarian colony in Berlin, and the Hungarian Institute at the University of 
Berlin (established in 1916/17). Unlike the Association and the Institute, 
however, the Collegium Hungaricum was a state-sponsored institution aimed at 
fostering intellectual exchange between Hungarian and German academics. These 
Hungarian academics benefited from the second pillar of Klebelsberg' s foreign 
policy: state-sponsored fellowships (dllami ostondijak), which were given to 
qualified (or well-connected) Hungarians, beginning in the 1923/24 academic 



It appears that the numerus clausus climate that reigned in Hungary 
extended to the allocation of these state-funded fellowships, as well. In the 
1923/24, 1924/25, and 1925/26 academic years, of the 198 fellowships that were 
distributed for various European universities, not a single one was awarded to a 
Jew. Of the more than 200 academics who received state-sponsored fellowships 
for the Berlin Collegium Hungaricum between 1923/24 and 1932/33, only five of 

■J o 

them were Jews. 

The numerus clausus climate also reigned in the Berlin Hungarian Student 
Association, which had been established in 1842. The original, short-lived 
Student Association had been dissolved already in the nineteenth century, but it 
was reestablished in October 1920, just before the Hungarian numerus clausus 
law was passed. 40 According to the statutes, membership was open to all people, 
and the Assocation was a non-political organization, which excluded those people, 
"whose past or current political activities endanger the political neutrality of the 

35 See Andor Ladanyi, Klebelsberg felsooktatdsi politikdja, /The policy of higher education of 
Klebelsberg/, (Budapest: Argumentum kiado, 2000), 7-13, 132-141. See also Akos Horvath, ed., 
Tanulmdnyok az ujkori kiilfoldi magyar egyetemjdrds tdrtenetehez, /Studies on peregrinations 
abroad of Hungariens in the Modern Era/, (Budapest: ELTE, 1997). 

36 Denes Kovacs, A Berlini Magyar Egyesiilet negyveneves tortenete, /Forty years history of the 
Hungarian Association in Berlin/, (Berlin, 1886); Magyar Kolonia - Ungarische Kolonie Berlin 
e. V.: 1846-1986 (Budapest: Delta Press, 1986). 

7 Janos Martonyi, ed., A Collegium Hungaricum Szovetseg Zsebkonyve, /Almanach of the 
Collegium Hungaricum Association/, (Budapest, 1936). 

38 A kiilfoldi osztondijak, /Scholarships abroad/, Egyenloseg, March 12, 1927, 3. In the 1930/31 
academic year, when a total of 241 osztondij /student grants/ were distributed, eight Jews - 
including Dr. Benedict Janos and Dr. Ujlaki Miklos - were among the recipients. See Nyolc zsido 
tudos kapott eziden allami ostondijat, /This year eight Jewish scholars have received state 
fellowships/, Egyenloseg, August 3, 1931, 3. 

39 Dezso Keresztury, Emlekezeseim, , 173. 

40 Humboldt University archive (Berlin), Rektor u. Senat der Friedirch-Wilhelms-Universitat zu 
Berlin, sig. 892. "Bund Ungarischer Hocschiiler Berlin 1842," ff. 5-8. Leo Szilard was present at 
the founding meeting on October 30, 1920. 

Michael L. Miller 

Association." However, in reality, the meetings of the Student Association were 
politically charged, reflecting the general climate of the time in Berlin ... as well 
as in Budapest. 

In his memoirs, Dezso Keresztury, who headed the Student Association in 
the late 1920s, described the antagonistic, and often openly anti-semitic, 
atmosphere of the Association in this period: 

"The Association had a good number of Jewish members who quarreled 
with one another, but they quarreled primarily with the non-Jews who came from 
the student associations in Hungary. They brought the domestic antisemitic catch 
phrases with them to Berlin. At home, the racist right wing got louder and louder. 
In Germany, Hitler and his henchmen were already on the rise." 

Keresztury went on to describe his sense of outrage, when "a passionate 
member of the right-wing Turul Student Association" started to preach 
antisemitism to the young people living in Berlin. 

Kesztury also described the reaction among Hungarian Jewish students in 
Berlin, who tried to come to terms with their rejection by large segments of 
Hungarian society. In particular, he recalled a Hungarian Jewish architectural 
student at Berlin's Technische Hochschule, who delivered a lecture on the Jewish 
Question in Hungary at one of the meetings of the Student Association. 
Keresztury summarized the essence of his lecture as follows: 

"For us Jews, Hungary was a welcoming, nurturing mother; now the 
circumstances have made her our stepmother. We can bear this, because we know 
that she will once again take us under her arms as our mother." 

This Hungarian Jewish architectural student expressed his disillusionment 
and sense of abandonment by his Hungarian "mother," but he still remained 
confident that the scourge of antisemitism that had enveloped Hungary and 
Germany was merely a passing phenomenon. 

From numerus clausus to numerus nullus: university antisemitism 
and the rise ofnazism 

Berlin may have been a refuge from Hungarian university antisemitism in 
the early 1920s, but it proved to be only a temporary haven. The anti -Jewish riots 
that erupted at Budapest's universities in 1919, and again in 1923, 1927, 1928 and 
1933, found echoes in Vienna (1927, 1931), Brno (1927), Prague (1929), and 
especially Berlin, where the Technische Hochschule had become a stronghold of 
National Socialism long before the Nazi seizure of power in January 1933. 5 
Indeed, "the National Socialists had gained more massive support among the 

41 Ibid. 

42 Dezso Keresztury, Emlekezeseim,, 175. 

43 Ibid., 176. 

44 Ibid. 

45 Hans Ebert, The Expulsion of Jews from the Berlin-Charlottenburg Technische Hochschule, Leo 
Baeck Institute YearBookXIX (1974), 156. 


Michael L. Miller 

students than in any other section of the population," with National Socialist 
student organizations garnering up to 76% of the vote at many of Germany's 
universities and other institutions of higher learning. At Berlin University, 
National Socialist students initiated antisemitic riots almost every year between 
1929 and 1933, and routinely boycotted lectures of Jewish professors. 47 National 
Socialist students enthusiastically welcomed the Law Against Overcrowding of 
German Schools and Universities (April 25, 1933), which - like the Hungarian 
numerus clausus law of 1920 - restricted admission of Jewish students, with the 
stated goal of reducing their numbers to the percentage of non-Aryans in the 
entire German population. 

On March 12, 1932, Egyenloseg published a letter from Hungarian Jewish 
students in Berlin, fittingly entitled "Hungarian Jewish boys in Berlin's roaring 
chaos." After describing Berlin's "bloody streets," these students lamented their 
unenviable predicament: 

"Such are they, struggling in Berlin's friendless crowd, having to pay for 
the fact that they were born Hungarians, not Germans, whose unforgiveable 
offense is that they are Jews, and whose unfortunate sin is that they are 
students." 49 

Interestingly, Eva Patai, the daughter of Jozsef Patai (editor of Mult es 
Jovo) and herself a student in Berlin, gave a more encouraging report in the 
following year. Upon her return to Budapest in March 1933 (a month before the 
Law Against Overcrowding of German Schools and Universities was 
promulgated), she told the Zsido Szemle that the atmosphere in Berlin at the time 
of her departure was "completely calm." 5 Eva, however, saw her future in neither 
Berlin nor Budapest. On September 19, 1933, she married Alfred Leon Hirsch, a 
Lemberg-born Jewish engineer, whom she had met in Berlin. Their wedding took 
place in Jerusalem, where the Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook 
officiated. 51 Eva's brother, the anthropologist Raphael Patai, also moved to 
Jerusalem in 1933 and he attended the newly-established Hebrew University, 

46 Max Pinl and Lux Furtmuller, Mathematicians under Hitler, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 
XVIII (1973), 130. 

47 Antisemitisch betonte Hakenkreuzler-Ausschreitungen an der Berliner Universitat, Judische 
Volksstimme, February 28, 1929, 2; So weit ist es in Berlin gekommen ! C-VZeitung, July 3, 1931, 
345-346; Studentenrebellion, C-V Zeitung, July 10, 1931, 359-360; Nazis Engage in Fight at 
Berlin University, New York Times, July 1, 1932, 4; Schwere antisemitische Ausschreitungen an 
der Berliner Universitat, Selbstwehr, January 20, 1933, 2. 

48 Bela Bodo, The Role of Antisemitism in the Expulsion of non-Aryan Students, 1933-1945, Yad 
Vashem Studies XXX (2002), 189-227; Das Gesetz gegen die Uberfullung deutscher Schulen und 
Hochschulen, C-V Zeitung, April 27, 1933, 147. 

49 Magyar zsido fiuk Berlin iivolto kaoszaban,, /Hungarian boys in the roaring chaos of Berin/, 
Egyenloseg, March 12, 1932, 6. 

50 A nemetorszagi esemenyek egy szemtanuja. Beszelgetes Patai Evaval,, /A witness of the 
German events. Conversation with Eva Patai/, Zsido Szemle, March 17, 1933, 2. 

51 Patai Eva hazassaga Jeruzsalemben, /Eva Patai's marriage in Jerusalem/, Zsido Szemle, October 
3, 1933, 8. See also Raphael Patai, Between Budapest and Jerusalem: The Patai Letters, 1933- 
1938 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2000), 7-11. 

Michael L. Miller 

where he was awarded the university's first Ph.D. in 1936. After graduating, he 
returned temporarily to Budapest, where he sought to "recruit students for what at 
that time was the only Jewish university in the world." 

In 1933, foreign Jewish students - whether Jewish by religion or "Jewish" 
by race - again picked up their "wandering staff and moved to their next station: 
France, Italy, Switzerland, Palestine and increasingly Great Britain and America. 
Leo Szilard - Jew by birth and Calvinist by religion - left for London in 1933, 
and then to America. Although he had become a Privatdozent and a German 
citizen, the rise of Hitler made his continued stay in Germany inadvisable. (Albert 
Einstein helped him secure an American visa.) By June 1935, there were only 60 
Jewish students in Berlin, most of them German citizens. 55 On November 11, 
1938, two days after Kristallnacht, Bernhard Rust, Minister of Science and 
Education, instructed Germany's rectors to remove all Jewish students from their 
institutions, making Nazi Germany the first country to go from numerus clausus 
to numerus nullus. 

A year earlier, in 1937, Minister Rust had addressed Berlin's Collegium 
Hungaricum on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Hungarian 
Institute at the Berlin University. In his remarks, he praised "the close sense of 
belonging between the German and Hungarian people," as well as the recent 
Cultural Treaty (1936), signed between the two allies. Dome Sztojay, Hungarian 
ambassador to Germany at the time (and later Hungarian premier during the 1944 
deportation of Hungarian Jewry) was also present, a testament to the increasing 
coordination (Gleichstaltung) of Hungarian and German affairs. 

Several years later, in 1942, the Berlin Hungarian Association celebrated 
its hundredth anniversary, and in honor of this festive occasion, Bela Szent- 
Ivanyi, a lecturer at the Berlin University and the director of the Collegium 


Hungaricum, co-authored an article on its history. He portrayed the Student 
Association as a testament to the "Indestructibleness and durability of German- 
Hungarian relations." Afterwards, he proudly touted Hungary's numerus clausus 
law, but he lamented its initial, unintended consequences: 

"After the World War, Hungary was the first state in Europe that tried to 
remove the Jews from the leading intellectual and economic position that they had 

Raphael Patai, Apprentice in Budapest: Memories of a World That is No More (Salt Lake City: 
University of Utah Press, 1988), 421. 

53 Ibid., p. 463. Hebrew University of Jerusalem was opened on April 1, 1925. 

54 William Lanouette and Bela Silard, Genius in the Shadows,, 100-102. 

35 Aprosagok Nemetorszagbol,, /Small things from Germany/, Egyenloseg, June 15, 1935, 10. 
"Berlinben mindossze 60, a birodalomban 300 zsido foiskolai diak van." /In Berlin there are 
altogether 60, in the Reich 300 Jewish students./ 

56 Certain Mischlinge were stilled permitted to study. See Bela Bodo, "The Role of Antisemitism," 

57 For Rust's speech, see Ungarische Jahrbiicher 17 (1937), 1-2. 

58 Zoltan von Papp and Bela von Szent-Ivanyi, Hundert Jahre Bund Ungarischer Hochschuler 
Berlin, Ungarische Jahrbiicher (1942): 1-28. On Szent-lvanyi, see Kereszteny magyar kozeleti 
almanach, vol. 2 (Budapest, 1940), 1007. 


Michael L. Miller 

assumed at the end of last century. The Hungarian law of 1920, which aimed to 
limit the number of Jewish students at the Hungarian universities, was the first 
break with the unified liberal, democratic order in Europe. Unfortunately, 
Hungary was alone back then in this measure and the effect of the law was that 
the Jewish youth of Hungary flocked to foreign universities." 59 

Indeed, many of Hungary's numerus clausus exiles initially went to Berlin, 
but by the time Szent-Ivanyi wrote these words, the Hungarian Jewish students 
were long gone from Berlin (and the rest of the German Reich). Many of the 
students - and their patrons, such as the banker Alfred Manovill - had returned to 
Hungary. The returning graduates often had difficulties getting their foreign 
degrees nostrified in their land of birth, which - in their years abroad - had truly 
become a "stepmother." Others, like Leo Szilard, Eugene P. Wigner and Eva Patai 
continued their peregrinations elsewhere as "wandering Jews" of the twentieth 

59 "HundertJahre,"21. 


Lucian Nastasa 

Lucian Nastasa 

Anti-semitism at universities in Romania (1919-1939) 

By the end of the First World War the Ancient Kingdom of Romania had 
achieved the long desired aim of incorporating large territories with masses of 
native Romanians into an independent state. So Transylvania from Austria- 
Hungary, Bessarabia and Bukovina from Russia became united to Romania. The 
Act of Union that more than doubled the country's area and population confronted 
the new state with extremely complex social and political challenges, due to a 
great diversity in the ethnic and confessional structure of the population and to the 
heavy regional inequalities in socio-cultural and economical terms. 

To refer to the most relevant basic documentation, the statistics of 1899 
and of 1930, respectively, give an insight into the transformation of ethnic and 
confessional structures of the country. While in 1899, from a total of 5,956,690 
people, confessional proportions were as follows: Orthodox Christians 91,5%, 
Jews 4,5%, Roman Catholics 2,5%, Muslims 0,7%, Protestants 0,4% and others 
0,4%, in 1930 the population was 18,047,028, whereof 72,6 % were Orthodox 
Christians, 6,8 % Roman Catholics, 4,2 % Jews, 3,9 % Calvinists, 2,2 % 
Lutherans, 1 % Muslims and 1,3 % others. 71,7% of the population was 
composed of ethnic Romanians, and the rest (28,1%) belonged to minorities, that 
is 5,069,000 people - not much less than Romania's total population in 1899 1 . 

Each of the newly added regions brought with it some specific traits 
difficult to harmonize with those in the Ancient Kingdom, a fact that pushed the 
decisive political forces to elaborate a project of "national domination", a strategy 
for the integration of all culturally disparate elements into a unified space of the 
Romanian citizenry. The theory of "social domination" by a change of the titular 
ethnic elite represented in reality a new burden imposed on those falling into 
minority status via various forms of political and cultural, but also economic 
deprivation the latter were exposed to endure. 

The present study's aims at the presentation of some characteristic 
elements of anti-Semitism in inter-war Romania just in the very sphere where it 
appeared the most clearly, in Universities. The anti-Semitic faction of the 
academic field grew ever stronger and generated a climate of militant agitation 
and menace, a climate cultivated and sustained by nationalist student corporations, 
a climate that was to degenerate into acts of violence under the flags of such 

Leonida Colescu, Analiza rezultatelor recensdmdntului general al populatiunii Romdniei de la 
1899, [The review of the results of the general census of the Romanian population from 1899 
forward by dr. Sabin Manuila, Bucuresti, Institutul Central de statistics, 1 944, p. 85]; 
Recensamdntul general al populatiei Romdniei din 29 decembrie 1930, vol. IX [General Structure 
of the Romanian population published by Sabin Manuila, Bucure§ti, Edit. Institutul Central de 
Statistics, s.a., p.376-406, 440-470]. 


Lucian Nastasa 

organisations or parties as the Social Christian League, the Romanian Action, the 
National Romanian Fascia, the National-Christian Defence League, the Archangel 
Michael Legion, All for the Country, the Iron Guard and so on. Still, it is not easy 
to clear up the facts and motives of the veritable anti-Semitic crisis which 
emerged in academe after the First World War due to the scarcity of indispensable 
basic studies concerning the distribution of anti-Semitic potential in the social 
space of the new state . 

The tension between the dominant national clusters and the Jews arose 
mainly, at least initially, with reference to economic and social motives. Jews in 
Romania had always manifested a remarkable competitive force on economic 
markets and in some modern professions, which caused the local inhabitants a 
sense of frustration and social failure. The public anti-Semitic discourse had a 
strongly economic edge in the core as early as the last quarter of the 19 l century, 
generating animosity to Jews, that led to the policy of restrictive legislation and 
the refusal of their collective civic emancipation, which continued till the end of 
the First World War . Later on emancipation was formally implemented only due 
to the pressure of international organizations. The Constitution adopted in 1923 
finally gave full civil rights to Israelites. Civic equality thus granted to Jews ought 
to have eased such ethnic tensions in after-war Romanian society, yet certain 
specific traits of the new societal juncture, together with events that took place 
around the country - the Soviet type Commune of Budapest, the temporary 
occupation of most of Hungary by Romanian troops and the ensuing "white 
terror", the disregard for ethnic realities in the drawing of the new state borders 
plus the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia - contributed to exacerbate these tensions 
together with deteriorating Romanian- Hungarian relations. 

Although the new Constitution contained provisions for handling the 
problems of ethnic minorities, confessional discrimination continued as a 
principle of legislation. Since Article 22 of the Romanian Constitution proclaimed 
the Orthodox Church as "dominant", the rest of confessional brackets were 
secured a marginal status only. Although in the interwar period there was no 
legislative restriction to the social mobility of Jews, Romania was a country 
governed by an ethnic -national titular elite, and public functions (in the 
administration, the army or education) remained practically inaccessible to ethnic 
outsiders, especially to Jews. 

So, until the year of 1938 when the "dark" articles of law brought about 
new restrictions, Jews elaborated some compensatory mechanisms that gave them 
a chance of success in branches of activity where the competition of non Jews 

2 A more detailed documentation is offered in Lucian Nastasa (editor), Antisemitismul universitar 
in Romania (1919-1939). Marturii documentare, Cluj-Napoca, Edit. Institutului Pentru Studierea 
Problemelor Minoritatilo r nationale, Kriterion, 201 1. 

Carol Iancu, Les Juifs en Roumanie. De ['exclusion a I 'emancipation, 1866-1919, Aix-en- 
Provence, Editions de l'Universite de Provence, 1978, and L 'emancipation des Juifs de Roumanie, 
1913-1919. De I'inegalite civique aux droits de minorite, preface de Charles Olivier Carbonell, 
Montpellier, Centre de recherches et d'etudes juives et hebrai'ques, 1992. 

Lucian Nastasa 

appeared to be weaker. That is how Jews have achieved a relative over- 
representation in some economic sectors, liberal and intellectual professions 
which were not protected to the benefit of native Romanians. Some important 
economic fields had always been regarded as "made especially for Jews", given 
their commonly recognised ability to invest in progressive and modern branches 
of the cultural industry, the press, book publishing, filmmaking, etc. Considering 
the contribution of Jews to modern approaches to intellectual and cultural 
production via politics, literature, philosophy or the sciences, we can see in Jewry 
a community defined not only by faith and religious convictions, but also by 
specific competences and over-qualification of sorts. Thus, the emancipation of 
Jews after the First World War, their competition for social achievement on 
legally equal footing with the indigenous element was perceived by many 
Romanians as an unrestricted and undue form of dominance left in their hands. 
The main social bases of anti-Semitism were provided by the groups whose 
situation deteriorated in the after-war crisis, and by those that often found 
themselves in a more or less direct competition with Jewish partners. 

Jews were among the greatest users of the educational system in Romania. 
Traditionally, education for them was an important strategy to strengthen their 
ethnic and religious identity. But modern educational pursuits performed for Jews 
an essential compensatory function for social disadvantages arising from their 
marginal situation. 

After the First World War the younger generation of Jews was indeed 
prone to give up the earlier ideal of running small shops and workshops, they 
aspired for hitherto inaccessible patterns of mobility on the social and professional 
scale through investing in advanced studies. They also hoped that attending 
institutions of elite education would improve their chances of social integration 
and free them entirely from their old status of stigmatized aliens. As observable in 
the data of the tables, in spite of negative attitudes of many towards them, Jews 
set a high value on personal success in the united Romanian state. The following 
tables offer a general overview of information related both to the development of 
the student body and to the presence of Jews in Romanian universities of the inter- 
war years. For lack of space these data cannot be analysed here in all their details. 
They should simply illustrate the spectacular development of the presence of Jews 
in the student body of Romanian universities after 1919, as compared to their 
rarity earlier, but also their progressively declining representation in the 1930s. 
The curve of the trend is the same in every university faculty, but not on the same 
level, except in Cluj - where the general level of Jewish representation appear to 
be as a rule lower than in the other academic centres, but there is no real decline 
neither in the years preceding World War II. 


Lucian Nastasa 

Proportions (%) of Jewish Students in Romanian Universities by 
Study Branches and Selected Periods (1900-1940) 4 

University ofBucarest 














Before 1919 





(338) 6 




(8479) 2 

(3434) 2 

(478) 2 

(1224) 2 


(1747) 2 

(208) 7 



(45570) 3 

(11388) 3 

(4077) 4 

(2023 1) 5 

(13508) 3 


(1577) 3 


















University oflasi (and Iasi/Chisinau Agricultural Studies) 






















Before 1919 



















(2962) 3 

(3886) 3 

(7560) 3 



















4 The absolute numbers of students in brackets. Source: Lucian Nastasa (ed.), Antisemitismul 
universitar..., op. cit. pp. 67-82. 

2 No data for 1921-1923. 

3 No data for 1923-1924. 

4 No data for 1925-1926. 

5 No data for 1923-1924, 1925-1926. 

6 No data for 1909-1910. 

7 No data for 1922-1923. 

8 No data for 1919-1922. 

9 No data for 1921-1922. 


Lucian Nastasd 

University ofCluj 

(and the Legal Faculty ofOradea) 



































37,2 % 




(1265) 9 


(116) 10 






32,5 % 







(29 18) 4 


(522) 4 

(2750) 4 






























University ofCernauti 


















13 sS 





(1125) 9 

(1657) 2 







(378) 3 ' 11 

(1140) 4 ' 13 

(768) 13 ' x 







(2281) 12 

(1591) 12 

(1146) 12 











The path to higher education was in a way generally enlarged after 1918 
when, due to the acquisition of new territories, so that the entire Romanian 
population saw an extension of the market of posts and jobs where university 
degrees were welcome assets. The Great Union aroused great expectations in 
post-war Romanian generations about an easier access to middle class standing 

No data for 1921-1923. 

; 1923-1924. 
' 1921-1922. 


1 1925-1930. 

2 1930-1933. 

3 1928-1930 

i No data for 1924-1925 + pharmacists 


Lucian Nastasa 

thanks to the multiplication of positions to be occupied on the basis of academic 
titles. The state policy of "Romanising" the new provinces (especially 
Transylvania and Bukovina) required specifically that the existing administrative 
body be replaced by a native Romanian one. The study by Sabin Manuila, Les 
problemes demographique en Transylvanie clearly shows the extent and the rapid 
progress of this policy: while in 1910 there were 62% Magyars and 19,6% 
Romanians in the administration and the proportion did not change until 1918, by 
1930 their ratio had become almost equal, 38,4% for the former and 35,3% for the 
latter. In Bukovina a population of 794,869 in 1910 was distributed as follows: 
Romanians 34,4%, Ruthenians 38,1%, Jews 12,9%, Germans 8,6%. But the 
composition of the body of high officials in a total of 4941 was rather different : 
Romanians 23,9 %, Jews 19,5 % while others (especially Germans) made up a 
majority of 56,6 %. In urban populations, like in Czernowitz, the relevant 
proportions were once again different : Jews 43.3%, Poles 18,8%, Ruthenians 
18,3%, Germans 9,6% and Romanians only 9,1%. As for Suceava, the second 
largest town in Moldavia, there were 32,4% ethnic Romanians, 37,1% Jews and 
19,9 % Germans 7 . In this context, the great rush of young people towards the 
universities was easy to understand: This was a response to the political discourse 
about the forthcoming Romanisation of the elites, favourable to the ethnic 
Romanian element. 

So, during the first years after the war, the situation of the academic 
market seemed propitious for the young generation in general, for ethnic 
Romanians in particular. Moreover the national university network became 
enlarged with the two additional provincial centres of higher education, those of 
Cluj and Czernowitz. At the same time the number of those looking for post- 
university jobs also increased. From a demographic point of view there was an 
understandably rapid growth of student populations with the return to normality 
after the hostilities. A great number of earlier students returned from the trenches, 
who had been compelled to interrupt their studies because of the war. This effect 
of "recuperation", which is easily noticed in statistics, went together with a 
growing number of girls entering into universities. The rigid unbalance of genders 
before the war, as women had been largely excluded from public life, tended to 
soften up already during the war, when women started to be employed in the most 
diverse fields of activity to replace men in the front. This generated a change of 
attitudes as regards women in elite education, since women appeared in great 
many jobs that had been traditionally reserved for men . This had an effect in 
university recruitment as well. If in the academic year of 1903/1904 in Bucharest 

6 In "Revue de Transylvanie", I, 1934, no.l, p. 45-60. [Republished in Sabin Manuila, Etudes sur la 
demographie historique de la Roumanie, ed. by Sorina and loan Bolovan, Cluj, Center for 
Transylvanian Studies, 1992, pp. 33-48]. 

Cf. I.E. Toroutiu, Poporatia si clasele sociale din Bucovina, [Population and social classes from 
Bukovina], Bucharest, Bukovina Library, 1916, p. 61, 75, 82, 194. 

Femeile in invatamantul universitar, in „Patria", Cluj, I, 1919, no. 189 (October 12), p. 2; Femeile 
care studiazd, in „Patria", II, 1920, nr. 197 (September 14), p.l s.a. 

Lucian Nastasa 

girls represented only 6,2%, after the great conflagration the ratio rose to 21,9 % 
in 1924/25 and to 30,7% in 1934/1935, a noticeable growth for all the university 

All these modified the public approach of school investments to a great 
extent, a phenomenon that seems to be specific to the logic of collective behaviour 
during crises or prolonged disturbances. In such cases long term existential 
investments appear to be the best. Not by chance, we notice considerable increase 
in secondary and advanced schooling during the immediate period after the war as 
well as during the economic crisis of 1929-1933. 

In order to clear up the profound reasons for the progress of anti-Semitism 
and for the dramatic situation at Romanian universities in the inter-wars period 
(the intimidation of Jewish students, the organizing of aggressive anti-Jewish 
commandos, violent actions that often led to closing up these institutions etc.) we 
must review other conditions of this agitation, like the modification of the 
university system, long and short term political developments, plus motives 
specific to one university centre or another. 

In politics changes were really spectacular. However, in spite of the large 
autonomy given to universities, in spite of the effort to conciliate the liberty in 
education with the state control, the latter had reserved all the levers of power in 
order to finance, develop and control, even ideologically, the network. Besides the 
task of modernising, this interventionist attitude proved often to be oriented to a 
clientele {clientelar), either on the level of the students' body or, even more often, 
on that of the professors, depending on their ideological options and their 
membership in some political parties. Not few were the cases of voluntaristic 
manipulations of the professors' council and senate, especially when the 
nomination to a university chair was in question. An example was the attempt to 
appoint the Jewish professors Eugen Ehrlich and Adolf Last to the university of 
Czernowitz, a case that triggered off a hectic press campaign on the basis of 
nationalistic and anti-Semitic motives. On the other hand, a discrimination 
between universities was more then obvious, even if only on the level of the 
budget. While the university of Bucharest, and even more that of Cluj, profited 
largely from new investments, which placed them among the most endowed 
institutions of Central and South-Eastern Europe, those of Iasi and Czernowitz 
had to accept a marginal status, particularly in terms of teaching careers, a 
nomination there being regarded just as a first step toward the others, especially 
for university politicians. That's why in a study of anti-Semitism one has to 
consider these restrictions of the post-war years together with their immediate and 
long-term impact. 

Though at that time no formal measures were in force to restrict the access 
to education, and there was no preferential or discriminatory social recruitment 
neither (there was just a talk of "democratisation"), the discrepancies between 
university centres and the economic realities of their regions (Bessarabia and even 
Moldavia were backward in comparison to Transylvania) were in practice 
conducive to unequal chances of accession for different sections of the people. 


Lucian Nastasa 

After 1918 in Iasi, the old capital of Moldavia, the new generation of 
students encountered a rather grave situation. For the last two years the town had 
been overcrowded with war refugees which made it financially bankrupt. Then, 
after the Great Union, the town received millions of subsidies for purposes of 
reconstruction and modernization, but the money was dilapidated due to bad 
finance (and corruption) in the political turmoil of the after-war years. At the 
beginning of the 20 l century Iasi and, generally speaking, Moldavia appeared 
often for uninformed observers to be a territory mostly populated by Jews. 
Although in 1899 the population in the region was Orthodox up to a 84,2% and 
only 10,6% were Israelites, the latter, with their essentially urban habitat, formed 
an active and enterprising group which left a strong mark on the towns. In places 
like Iasi, Botosani, Piatra Nemt, Bacau and Dorohoi Jews represented a proportion 
of about 5% in the population, while in Barlad, Focsani, Roman and Husi they 
were half as many. 

The incorporation of Bessarabia brought even more heterogeneity with it. 
Young Bessarabians - Romanians but mainly Israelites - would attend the 
university of Iasi, because of its geographic proximity (for Romanians), as well as 
due (for Jews) to the powerful Jewish community that existed there. They could 
enjoy the special support and facilities offered to them by both the Romanian state 
and the university at that time under the aegis of "the Bessarabian students' 
support for education" fund. The latter secured for them a priority for lodging and 
scholarships, all the more because most of them had certificates of poverty (the 
people of the region were indeed mostly very poor, and rural) etc. This flood of 
Jews from the former Russian gubernia to the university was a reaction of this 
confessional group to the socially discriminated and marginal situation that had 
been imposed on them, even more severely than in the ancient Kingdom of 
Romania. This rush took place simultaneously with the Civil War in Russia. 
Among the refugees at the university of Iasi in 1919 there was a considerable 
number of students from Odessa (a southernmost centre in the Ukraine with a 
powerful Jewish community), taking advantage of the facility with which all kinds 
of degrees of preliminary studies were accepted and registered by the 
administration of the University. 

As always in such cases, there irregularities happened to occur, false 
papers produced as school documents and identification, money was able to buy 
anything of the kind. In 1921 in Iasi the whole staff of the university professors' 
secretariat was dismissed, and the copyist Louis Stifler, discovered to possess 
blank documents with the seal of the Rectorate, was brought to trial . 

The confused state of things was aggravated by the Communist 
propaganda carried on mainly by the newcomers. The whole Romanian press of 
that time was full of hints at the "Communist danger" with large reports from 
Soviet Russia, and about the events of the autumn 1918 and spring 1919 in 
Hungary, the October revolution first and later the proclamation of the Council's 

The State Archives oflassy, Law Court, section II, file 169/1921. 

Lucian Nastasa 

Republic, in which Jewish intellectuals and activists had an important part. They 
were often spoken of as "Freemasons" and "Judeo-bolsheviks" which awoke old 
animosities and generated distrust and intolerance. 

Nearly all political trials in the first years after the war exposed 
Bessarabian Jews as Communists, and the confidential reports from the Romanian 
secret services often referred to the activity of the students as being in that spirit. 
In an address from the major general of the 4 l Army Corps in March 1920 it was 
shown that 32 students at the university of Iasi "had been in the service of Russian 
Bolsheviks as propaganda agents, and were going on with their activity" 1 . The 
Club of the Bessarabian students was permanently under the surveillance of the 
secret service as a nest for propagandists of Communist ideas. The security 
services discovered that "Bolshevik and Communist cells in Iasi possessed secret 
printing houses and had Bessarabian Jewish students as members". Most of them 
had false identification documents and hardly attended the university lectures. 
"The Bessarabian students' homes and especially that of the Jews - the report 
concluded - are nothing but powerful centres of Communist propaganda, and the 
fact that all the members wear Russians shows clearly that they are far from 
having Romanian feelings" 11 . 

The strike at the university of Iasi in 28-30 March 1921 was initiated also 
by Bessarabian students to protest against the arrest of their colleagues Timotei 
and Elisei Marin, Liuba Elbert and others, notorious Communists, accused of 
association with students of Bucharest with the aim of giving their action a greater 
amplitude . With a lot of similar examples in view the Association of Christian 
Students in Iasi, in December 1924, wrote a Memoir demanding that "the great 
Bessarabian groups of students be dismembered in the Ancient Kingdom and 
divided in small groups in student homes" 13 . 

We must not forget about the effect of the White Terror and the anti- 
Semitic movements in Hungary that triggered an exodus of Jews, directed mainly 
to the West, but also to Transylvania, where its weight made itself felt even in 
university statistics. But here, the situation was different from that of the Old 
Kingdom. While Romanians looked upon Jews as 'inassimilable', in old Hungary 
on all fields of modern activities Jews held important, if not predominant 
positions, with a high degree of integration in their host society, to the extent of 
embracing a profound Hungarian cultural identity - which was maintained for a 
long time even in the inter-wars period . Apart from the strong nationalist 

The State Archives oflassy, Law Court, Rectorate, 926/1920, f.44-47. 

11 Ibidem, 953/1921, f.l 10. 

12 Ibidem, f.109. Jewish socialist students were caught spreading manifestoes. The fact that 
Bessarabians displayed a strong spirit of unity and that they were speaking Russian, made the 
Romanian authorities think of the existence of a conspiracy. 

13 Ibidem, 1087/1925, f.93. 

14 Jews in the Hungarian Economy 1760-1945, Studies Dedicated to Moshe Carmilly- Weinberger 
on his Eightieth Birthday, ed. by M. K. Silber, Jerusalem, 1992, p. 161-184; Vera Ranki, The 
politics of inclusion and exclusion. Jews and nationalism in Hungary, New York, Holmes & 
Meier, 1999; V. Karady, Zsidosdg es tdrsadalmi egyenlotlensegek (1867-1945). Torteneti- 


Lucian Nastasa 

discourse against Transylvanian Magyars in official public opinion, Hungarians, 
Jews and Romanians lived together on tolerant, if not cordial terms, if state level 
politics was disregarded, a fact that made anti-Semitic manifestations much less 
violent here than in the Old Kingdom. Centuries of coexistence in widely 
diversified confessional networks (there were at least ten significantly distinct 
confessional clusters in Transylvania), a certain degree of modernism and a 
relatively high level of urban civilization had imposed on active collectives a 
more decent behaviour. Thus open violence was rare, unless instigated by political 
forces in search of electoral capital. The efforts that accompanied the creation of 
"Superior Dacia's University", the exceptional care of the institution's 
administration to provide good conditions of study, lodging and food for the 
students at a time when Cluj was an overcrowded city, the high prestige 
professors enjoyed even outside academe kept the inter-confessional and inter- 
ethnic frictions from turning excessively violent. 

However, at the end of the First World War the fulfilment of Romanian 
national aspirations, beyond giving rise to a general enthusiasm, also loosened the 
passions of intolerance, sometimes even inside the same ethnic body. According 
to the royal decree of 21 th January 1919 all professors suspect of "anti-national 
attitudes" were suspended from their chairs 5 . Even in the intellectual elites the 
spirit of revenge, the need to take sides in politics, the formation of new pressure 
groups, behind-the-scene games and intrigues, animosities, etc., all this exerted a 
negative influence on the student body which, preparing to go on with the 
aspiration of the old elites - and, in the name of war-time sacrifices, hoping for 
more respect and consideration - saw itself neglected and largely maintained its 
very pre-war conduct. The idea of generation was omnipresent, consisting itself in 
an obsessive and mostly nationalistic discourse suggesting a new start in the 
nation building (and cleansing) process. 

"The Optimism of the Heroic Generation" (to quote the title of a press 
article 16 ) was far from being justified. Always seeking models, the studying young 
people from the inter-war period had to face the spectre of a society tormented by 
convulsions, challenges and search for societal options. More than anything, "the 
moral crisis of ideal, the crisis of orientation" was very serious. As the periodical 
Voice of the Students noticed: "the present generation had no childhood. Its 
psychology is built on the dead of the war, having in its heart only disgust and 
hostility towards the profiteers of the war". The answers to the questions "What 
are we doing? Where are we going?" were all but optimistic: "The disorientation 

szociologiai tanulmanyok, /Jewry and social inequalities, 1867-1945, studies in historical 
sociology/, Budapest, Replika Kor, 2000; V. Karady, Symbolic Nation-Building in a Multi-Ethnic 
Society. The Case of Surname Nationalization in Hungary, in vol. Ethnizitdt, Moderne und 
Enttraditionalisierung, herausgegeben von Moshe Zuckermann, Tel Aviv, Wallstein Verlag, 2002, 

Vezi Lucian Boia, „ Germanofilii ". Elita intelectuala romdneasca in anii primului rdzboi 
mondial, Bucuresti, Edit. Humanitas, 2009. 
16 In J>atria n , Cluj, I, 1919, nr. 176 (23 September), p.l. 

Lucian Nastasa 

of the young people and, especially, of the academic youth increases because they 
are lured by Fascism from the West and by Communism from the East, and in our 
country we take part in a most disgusting show" 17 . 

Perhaps Mircea Eliade expressed in 1927 in the best way the basic 
dilemmas of his generation connected to the "plurality of the soul's experience", 
that not everyone was prepared to assume in a convenient way and without inner 

1 Q 

torments . From this point of view, we can talk of a crisis of young people in 
search of inedited political formulas, new references in terms of philosophy and 
culture. And this confusion of values was exploited ideologically by a few 
characters of Romanian public life. Anti-Semitism, though only a piece in the 
foundation of right-wing radical ideology, contributed essentially to the 
formation, integration and cohesion of some new communities of ideas, first of all 
in the university environment, to the development of a powerful spirit of 
togetherness - one specific to periods of socio-cultural crisis. 

The arsenal used by anti-Semites included the pseudo-scientific discourse 
that stresses the traditional opposition of the Semite and Aryan races, of two 
confessional clusters that in local history could never find points of convergence. 
And, since any religious problem in Romania has always been marked by 
important political connotations, the nationalist-Christian doctrine found a great 
resource in its the mystical elaborations. "Christianity, in a militant sense - as an 
article entitled Nationalism at school tried to explain it - is a fight against other 
religious trends that deny it. So it is also anti-Semitism. Taking into account that 
all Communists are Jews - the author concluded -, it is obvious that Jews are the 
most dangerous enemies of the Romanian state" . Alongside the mystical and 
anti-Communist rhetoric of the anti-Semitic movement, Jews were repeatedly 
accused that they lacked civic spirit, had not taken part in the efforts of the war, 
more than that, they had even taken advantage of it and made fortunes thereof 
(through military supplies, fraudulent businesses, etc.) 20 . 

At the universities anti-Semitism remained also - as illustrated in the 
student statistics above - a numerical problem, given the ethnical composition of 
the student body with the strong over-representation of Jews. Although the Great 
Union should have opened large possibilities for the young generation, this latter 
found itself facing less secured life perspectives than earlier. Especially after the 
economic crisis of 1929-1933, its situation seemed to be totally compromised. 
The growing of "intellectual proletariat", a class of university graduates without 
employment in their profession, this predicament had become an unsurmountable 
problem of a whole generation always present in the debates of the thirties. 
Notwithstanding, the student status still offered the only practical way to preserve 

17 V. Marascu, Unde mergem?, in „Glasul studentimii", I, 1934, nr. 1 (18 March), p. 2-3. 

18 Mircea Eliade, O generatie, in "Cuvantul studentesc", IV, 1927, nr.2 (December 4 th ), p.l. 

19 Glasul studentimii, I, 1934, nr.13 (September 7 th ), p. 3. 

20 An idea contradicted by the reality. See W.Filderman, Adevarul asupra problemei evreiesti din 
Romania in lumina textelor religioase si a statisticii, Bucharest, "Triumful" Tip., 1925. 


Lucian Nastasa 

a modest, apparently middle class standing . Yet the anti-Semitic discourse 
became harsher in student circles, turned against the competition of Jews in the 
liberal professions (juridical careers, journalism, medicine, pharmacy etc.) that 
attracted young Jews in relatively big numbers. While in the years before the war 
the faculties of Law and Philology had attracted the large majority of students , in 
the post-war years a great change can be observed in academic options with 
growing interest for medical and technical studies additionally to the continued 
congestion of juridical studies. 

Disparities in career choices between ethnic Romanians and Jews can be 
explained by the fact that Jews had to face hostilities mostly in professional 
faculties. On the opening of the academic year 1920/1920 in Cluj, the rector, 
Sextil Puscariu expressed worries about the numerical disproportion among the 
different faculties. At the Faculties of Laws and Medicine, he stated, "most of the 
students must have made this choice with the hope of a more secure and profitable 
career, as the want of physicians, administrative officials and magistrates in the 
new Romanian State excludes the competition for graduates of these faculties" . 
Mainly the over-application for student places in Medicine gave the University 
Senate the idea to discuss the introducing a numerus clausus to stop the affluence 
of Jewish students from Hungary , where the admission to universities was 
severely limited for them by the Law XXV of I s September 1920. This basically 
anti-democratic idea had to be rejected by the university forum at a moment when 
the new juridical concept of minority rights had been imposed on Romania by the 
Peace Conference in Paris. 

So the Romanian students, choosing a liberal profession, saw their chances 
enhanced by getting rid of the Jewish competition. This idea, together with a 
major carelessness of the political power about existential problems of the young 
generation, stimulated the anti-Semitic student movement to evolve in the 
direction of a political organisation of their own, that is, to turn their corporation 
into a political party (the "Archangel Michael's Legion") and to elaborate a 
totalitarian ideology as a means of imposing their demands. The Iron Guard 
doctrine, beyond the annihilation of Jews, also took up a discourse against 
politicians themselves in order to "morally renovate society" through the 
expulsion of those powerful parties led by an "occult Jewish camarilla" which was 

21 See, under this aspect, the image offered by Nae Tudorica, an ex-student in laws and iron- 
guardist, in his book of memories: Mdrturisiri in duhul adevdrului, Bacau, "Plumb", 1993. 

22 Anuarul Universitdtii din Cluj. 1919-1920 [The Yearbook of the Cluj University, 1919-1920], 
ed. II, Cluj, Tip. Nationala, 1931, p.14-15; "Patria", II, 1920, nr. 219 (Oct. 12 th ), p.2. 

23 Cf. „Patria", Cluj, II, 1920, nr. 219 (12 October), p.2. [In the first semester of the academic year 
1919/1920 707 students were enrolled at the Medical School and 33 in Pharmacy; in the second 
semester the number passed over 800, from which 343 were Jewish, many of them coming from 
Hungary]; cf. Facultatea de medicind din Cluj, in „lnfratirea", Cluj, I, 1920, nr. 58 (13 October), 

Lucian Nastasa 

dominant in the Romanian financial system . This discourse received its first 
public expression in Iasi (23-25 August 1923) at the Congress of the leaders of the 
right wing students' movement. The meeting made decisions about a new political 
agenda: the fight against the political parties "alienated from the nation" and 
unwilling to support the demands of the students. 

As shown above, the anti-Semitic movement had their roots in Iasi and 
Bucharest where the socio-economical frustration and the nationalistic discourse 
had an echo in large categories of the Romanian society . 

Those who entered the university system immediately after 1918, mostly 
ex-servicemen, tended to require immediate and direct compensation for the years 
of fear and misery spent in the trenches with no regard to post-war poverty. Many 
of them enjoyed great prestige in students' corporations on the strength of their 
military past experiences. Others, endowed with an sense for political agitation 
and pressure, could represent veritable models for young people of modest origin 
that had not experienced the war. New student leaders, making their way via anti- 
Semitic (and other) activism in student societies or outside them, could capitalize 
on the persecutions they had suffered (expulsion from the university, police 
investigations, trials etc.), generating thus an extremely prolific cult of 
personality. Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu, I. I. Mota, V. Marin and others entered the 
Iron Guard "mythology" as martyrs. They were worshipped even after their 
physical disappearance. When the Senate of the university of Cluj, 4 l November 
1937, dissolved the Society of Students in Letters and Philosophy for political 
activity within an academic institution (which was forbidden by the academic 
regulations) and for possessing insignia in the society's headquarters that 
demonstrated their affiliation with the Iron Guard movement, the members 
protested against the accusations saying that, in their opinion, their only crime was 
that they had worshipped the memory a Mota and Marin . 

The cult of personality was one of the ideological levers that belonged to a 
carefully elaborated and excessively mystical stage design, attracting indeed 
masses of people. That doesn't mean that all Romanian students were anti- 
Semitic. In fact they were heterogeneous, coming from different regional, social 
and political environments, which kept them from getting closer to a consensus. 
However, the great mass of anti-Semites came from a population of modest 
origin, mostly rural and poor. This heterogeneity was specified in the request for 
recognition (3 r March 1919) of the Law Students' Society in Iasi, a body which 
will be most active in anti-Semitic manifestations: "There are differences between 

Al. Tomescu Baltesti, Pe cand romdnul moare de foame, jidanul Max Auschnitt se scaldd in 
milioane, in "Glasul studentimii, I, 1934, nr. 11 (August 5 l ), p. 3; N.Astratinei, O plosnitd 
nationald: Auschnitt, in cit. mag., nr.17 (November 4 ), p.l a.o. 

15 Besides this, as it was shown in a Memoir of the Romanian Christian students of Oradea 
(February 3rd, 1925), in which the necessity of the numerus clausus is justified. "It is very natural 
that the big stuggle took place in Iasi, because there, the Moldavian together with the Bassarabian 
Jews being in an overwhelming majority, put in danger the destinies of our country" {The State 
Archives of Iassy, University "Al.I.Cuza" Iassy, Rectorate, 1087/1925, f.41-42). 

State Archives of Cluj, Faculty of Letters, Correspondence, 138/1937-38. 


Lucian Nastasa 

the students from the provinces and those from the kingdom, and on this we 
cannot write as much as we could say; it is dangerous for the Romanian State, this 
chaotic outlook, the lack of a leading principle and unifying ideals among those 
who, tomorrow, will be dispatched and scattered in the administration, the free 
professions, justice and politics, where they would find themselves strangers". 
Therefore the Society gave itself a "national character" and decided that "the 
ultimate ideal was the maintenance of a conscience of brotherly solidarity among 
the Romanian students of anywhere" . 

Although in the inter-war period there did not exist a formally anti-Semitic 
legislation, and the government authorities prevented any encroachment upon 
Constitutional principles, during all those years there were manifestations in 
university premises with the purpose not only to limit, but even to expel the Jews 
from institutions of higher education. The attitude of the extremists evolved from 
the project of an anti -Jewish numerus clausus to the radical numerus nullus. Any 
malfunctioning in the relations of Romanians and Jews had always been used to 
instigate demands of expelling Jews or at least restricting their numbers. If, for 
instance, the contractor Solomon Grunberg failed to provide, as he was obliged to, 
fuel to schools in Iasi and they had to remain closed for the whole month of 


February , if the newspaper "Lumea" ("The World"), owned by Alfred and Jean 
Hefter, published an article titled The Epoch of Exams, in which the professors of 
the Faculty of Law in Iasi were denounced for their facility in giving grades and 
diplomas - and the examples could be multiplied for the whole period -, all such 
events pushed students to organise anti-Semitic manifestations. 

Such manifestations found an excellent field of action at the faculties of 
Medicine where there was a most visible disproportion between Romanians and 
Jews. Incidents, that started in Cluj and continued violently in Iasi and Bucharest, 
were specifically due to a debate about dissection where a parity was demanded 
for the access to the didactic material (Christian or Jewish corpses). From 
December 1922 on there were debates on inter-confessional separatism and the 
application of a numerus clausus. Some student corporations, claiming a 
"Christian" designation without obtaining their recognition from the University 
Senate, led more and more violent actions. Through a decision by the headmaster 
of the Institute of Anatomy (No. 76/1 5 l 1923) Jews were expelled from 
dissection rooms, a case of grave confessional discrimination in a discipline where 
practice was essential. This state of things persisted, until on 26 l June 1924 the 
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine informed the rector's office that Jewish students 

27 State Archives of Iassy, University "Al.Ioan Cuza", Rector's Office, 897/1918, f.132-133. 
Ibidem, f.231. 

29 On this occasion there were great anti-Semitic manifestations that had as result, on the 13 r and 
16* of June 1920, the laying waste of the editorial office, the printing house and the manager's 
house, and the burning, in the Union Square, of the whole edition, etc. (cf'Lumea", III, 1920, 
nr.495/June 17 th , p.2; State Archives ofIassy,cit. fund, 930/1920, f.35-38). 

30 Ibidem, 1037/1923, f.5. A similar decision, in the session of the Senate, November 5 , 
1923(f. 10). See the protest movement of the Jewish students, f. 14-15. 

Lucian Nastasa 

would be permitted to pass the exams in descriptive anatomy on corpses only after 
the Christians' having passed the practical tests, if there remained available 

-3 1 

corpses . When the agitation of the students reached the maximum, in Bucharest 
the leader of Romanian Jews, Dr W. Fildermann promised to secure the necessary 
corpses collected from the different Jewish communities all over the country . 

The discriminatory practice against Israelites was extended to all the 
faculties. "Guards" of anti-Semitic students stood at the entrance of the university, 
resorting to violence to keep Jews from attending the courses: This brought about 
the intervention of the police and the closing down of all the educational 
institutions. As the protest of the Jewish students in Law made it clear, "the 
abnormal situation that Christian students prevent us systematically from 
attending numerous university courses tends to be perpetual, and puts us unjustly 
and arbitrarily in a position of inferiority" . The Memorandum of the Christian 
Students Association on 28 November 1924 gave reasons of their attitude: "The 
day of 10 l December will be the third anniversary of the beginning of the struggle 
that Romanian students have carried on for a numerus clausus in order to defend 
the ruling nation against the foreign elements that had invaded it and, through 
their superior material conditions and other specific characteristics tend to 
annihilate it, so that they could become the leaders of the Romanian nation. These 
days when despairing students, wherever they go with their complaints, find only 
indifference, blasphemy, even beating, we will continue our actions until 
Romanians realize that the conscious students defend the ruling nation and spare 
no hard work and sacrifices to reconquer it from the foreign hands and keep it safe 
from invasions in the future" . 

In absence of an anti-Semitic legislation that could have satisfied the 
nationalist extremists, the agitation of the students continued during the 1930s in 
close connection with the Iron Guard, which was by then organised as a political 
force that functioned sometimes legally, sometimes illegally. In an atmosphere of 
violence the principle of "proportional exclusion" gained force and became tacitly 
adopted by these extremists. Though the radicalism of numerus nullus, proposed 
in Iasi by the president of the Students Centre (Virgil Gavrielescu) in 1933 , 
could not be put into practice, much later the principle of ethnic proportionality 
began to function tacitly, through regulations concerning the number of students 


enlisted in the first year, without mentioning discrimination . However, 

31 Ibidem, 1047/1924, f.663. 

32 "Romania", III, 1925, nr.410 (February 27 th ), p.4. 

33 State Archives oflassy, cit. fund, 1047/1924. See also f.324-325, 389. 

34 Ibidem, 1057/1924, f.16-17. 

35 A reason for which he was sued in court. See "Glasul studentimii", I, 1934, nr.lO(July 22 nd ), p.4 
and R.Filimon, Numerus Nullus, in, nr. 1 1 (August 5* ), p. 1 . 

36 The Decree-Law to settle the Jews 'situation in the educational process (In the "Official 
Monitory", nr.240 from October 14th, 1940) and which stipulated that those born from Jewisch 
parents or from a Jewish father could not enter a state University, no matter of their religion. 

C. Kiritescu, Suprapopulatia universitard. Proportii, cauze, remedii, in "Viitorul", XXVIII, 
1935, nr.8236 (July 2 nd ), p. 1-2 (see also nr.8239, p.l). ' 


Lucian Nastasa 

boycotting courses and exams, organising strikes etc. led to the actual diminution 
of Jewish enrolments (as it is visible in the tables above). In Cluj for instance, as 
well as in the other centres, student associations carefully watched the numerical 
weight of 'aliens', having obtained in 1936 the "optimum" proportions: "Magyars 


24%, Saxons 1%, Jews 3% . Moreover, to ease tensions, always present, the 
Board of Education in Cluj and Iasi decided in 1934 to abolish the provincial 
faculties of Pharmacy and to concentrate them in Bucharest. The reasons invoked 
for this measure were explicitly "the growing number of graduates" as well as 
"the excessive weight of those from the minorities". In spite of the protest of the 
professors in Iasi and Cluj ("we must not upset our educational institution for 
fighting minority people ) the abolition of provincial pharmaceutical institutions 
led to a considerable decrease of the number of Jewish students in the two 
university centres. 

Many of the Jewish graduates and students concerned could only choose 
emigration, as it is indicated by the growing number of passports released after 
1935 by police agencies, a very important source of archival data for a 
sociological study of the motives for a temporary or a final exile. (Such an 
analysis would deserve great attention, since it could demonstrate an important 
mutation in educational strategies in form of an almost unprecedented degree of 
transfer of symbolic and intellectual capitals.) 

Therefore, without insisting upon numerous factual details that marked the 
evolution of academic anti-Semitism in inter-war Romania, one has to state that 
the latter constituted one of the major factual givens conferring a veritable 
specificity on higher education in the country. It generated numerous functional 
disorders on the state's level, but also prepared the murderous policy of racial 
purification of the 1940s, that was gaining force in contemporary Europe. 


21st December 1919, Cluj - Jewish students of Medicine refuse to use a 
Jewish corpse for dissection; Security notes speak also of their anti-Romanian 
attitude as they continue to speak Hungarian. 

26th January 1920, Cluj - Headmaster of the Institute of Anatomy in Cluj, 
Victor Papilion reports on the December event, explaining the circumstances in 
which the corpse got to his institution, and on the "agitation" of the Christian 
students about the issue. 

6th April 1920, Chisinau - A ministerial delegation presents a petition in 
Bessarabia for establishing a university in the province as a means of forming a 
Romanian intellectual elite, as Russians and Jews together are in majority 

6th June, 1920 Iasi - Christian students set fire to the editorial office of the 
periodical Light owned by the Brothers Hafner. 

38 See also "Glasul studentimii", II, 1935, nr.27 (Sept.22 nd ), p.4; III, 1936, nr.43 (December 20 th ), 
The Yearbook of the University of Iassy from 1930-1935, Iasi, 1936, p. 62. 

Lucian Nastasa 

9th October 1920, Czernowitz - The Senate of the local university, at the 
request of Jewish students, approves that a Semitic language course be held, but 
with double fee. 

22nd November, 1920 Iasi - Students from Bessarabia submit a protest to 
the rector of Iasi University against the aggressive attitude of the local police 
towards them: they were arrested, beaten and jailed without real reason. 

2st April 1921, Iasi - The newsletter Fourth Body Army demands that 
non-Romanian students from Bessarabia should have to obtain local Security visa 
as they, mostly Jews, are involved in Communist propaganda. 

2nd June 1921, Iasi - The Jounalists' Union of Moldova protests against 
the aggressive acts of Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu against journalists. 

5th June 1921, Iasi - Student societies approve of the expulsion of 
Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu from the university. 

12th June 1921, Cluj - Nicolae Lovi applies for his admission to the so- 
called "war semester" as he served in the army throughout the war. 

2nd July 1921, Czernowitz - The Disciplinary Committee excludes three 
Jew students for a semester who signed a protest addressed to the University 

15th December 1921, Iasi - Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu applies for 
cancelling the order of the Senate on his exclusion. 

21st February 1922, Briceni (Hotin County) - The local police warns the 
rectory of Iasi University that two Jewish students have collected money for 
Communist propaganda purposes. 

16th May 1922, Iasi - Max H. Goldner claims compensation for the 
damages caused by some nationalist students in the printing house of his local 
newspaper Opinion. 

8th June 1922, Iasi - The foundation of "The Association of Christian 
Romanian Students in Iasi University" is announced. 

October 1922, Iasi - Violent clashes between Christian students and the 
members of the Jewish Maccabi Society 

1st November 1922 Iasi - Violent manifestations by Christian students 
during a sporting event organized by Maccabi, and on a theatre performance 
where a Jewish actress played. 

16th November 1922, Iasi - Reports for the Ministry of Education on anti- 
Semitic incidents in Husi, Barlad and Iasi caused by "nationalist" students. 

1st December 1922, Bucharest - A hearing in the Parliament about the 
anti-Semitic excesses at Cluj University 

7th December 1922, Cluj - Anti-Semitic incidents at the Faculty of 
Medicine. The possibility of a numerus clausus is deliberated; the Senate orders 
that bodies for dissection should arrive to the Institute of Anatomy without noting 
their family or religion. 

12th December 1922, Cluj - Jewish students request efficient measures of 
the dean in order to stop anti-Semitic manifestations. 


Lucian Nastasa 

15th December 1922, Cluj - The access of the Jewish students to the 
Faculty of Medicine classes is still blocked, reports Prof. Urechia to the Rector. 

20th December 1922, Cluj - Professors are asked by an informal bulletin to 
retain the names of the students that block the way of the Jewish students to the 

21st December 1922, Cluj - Prof. Abramescu condemns the attitude of 
Christian students towards their Jewish colleagues 

2nd January 1923, Iasi - Prof. Sumuleanu complains that Jews are 
unwilling to deliver corpses for dissection, while it is required that Jewish 
students should dissect only bodies from their race. 

29th January 1923 - Gh. Ionescu, student of Medicine explains why he 
refuses to let Jews attend laboratory classes. 

10th March 1923, Iasi - Motion of Christian students that a numerus 
clausus be introduced at Romanian universities. 

15th March 1923, Bucharest - B. Straucher questions the minister in 
Parliament about the anti-Semitic manifestations at the University of Cluj, and 
demands that the Prime Minister send a commission to investigate the case. 

22nd March 1923, Cluj - The Rector of the university gets a notification 
from the Prosecutor's Office about the Christian students that provoked anti- 
Semitic demonstrations. 

17th April 1923, Cluj - Jewish students of Medicine notify the rector that 
they were hindered by others in attending their classes. 

23rd April 1923, Iasi - Christian students occupy the University and 
demand the introduction of numerus clausus. 

26th April 1923, Iasi - The Senate of the university organises a 
referendum on numerus clausus and on the autonomy of the university; decision 
to postpone classes until the autumn. 

28th April 1923, Cluj - During anti-Semitic events Rector Iacob 
Iacobovici is insulted by militant Medicine students. A demonstration of students 
against Rector Iacob Iacobovici. 

1st May 1923 Cluj - The Rector reports to the Ministry of Education on 
the anti-Semitic demonstrations of the previous month and the presence of 
Christian students from other universities. 

7th May 1923, Iasi - 68 students petition the Rector to find remedy against 
the anarchy in the university caused by the anti-Semites. 

30th May 1923, Bucharest - The Ministry of Education confirms the order 
of expelling the leaders of anti-Semitic students from the University of Cluj. 

23rd May 1923, Suceava - Some high school professors manifest anti- 
Semitic attitude which they acquired during their studies at Iasi University. 

14th November 1923, Iasi - Christian students forcefully enter the 
dissection room of the Institute of Anatomy and throw out Jewish students. They 
demand that Jewish students should provide bodies of their own race for their 
dissection practice, that police be forbidden to enter university premises, and 
should release the students they already imprisoned. 

Lucian Nastasa 

14th December 1923, Iasi - The rector reports to the Ministry of Education 
on the disquieting state in the university which would necessitate help from the 
Army to protect them, and on certain professors that are implied in the acts that 
maintain disorder. 

23rd December 1923, Iasi - Jewish students apply to the Law School for a 
permission that they could pass their exams of Economy in some other university 
because their lecturer, A. C. Cuza stuffs his lectures with racist and xenophobic 

15th February 1924, Cluj - The police marshal informs the Rectory of 
recent anti-Semitic incidents and demands measures against students who plan 
new assaults on legal forces. 

8th April 1924, Suceava - A professor of the local university denounces a 
Jewish colleague in Czernowitz for lack of patriotism; the official investigation 
refutes the accusation. 

28th November 1924, Iasi - Christian students petition that 10th December 
be declared an anniversary of the public demand for the introduction of numerus 
clausus three years earlier, and that classes be cancelled that day. 

30th November 1924, Iasi - Their petition rejected, the Christian students 
warn the rectorate that they won't take responsibility for further incidents. 

4th December 1924, Oradea - Prof. D. D. Motolescu of Law School 
complains of the anti-Semitic attitude of some Romanian students who attend his 
class of Roman Law. 

5th December 1924, Oradea - Christian students condemn Prof Motolescu 
in their memo of being a supporter of Jews. 

11th December 1924, Iasi - A debate in the University Senate on the 
violent clashes on the previous day, the opinion of the professors about them and 
the necessity of asking for the Army's intervention. 

12th December 1924, Oradea - The police marshal's report on the 8th 
December events (a clash between Christian and Jewish students) that led to 

15th December 1924, Iasi - In the anti-Semitic incidents of the previous 
day Christian students were supported by several professors. 

15th December 1924, Oradea - The board of professors approves of the 
intervention by Mototolescu, professor of Roman Law, in defence of his Jewish 

16th December 1924, Timisoara - Principal of the Hebrew High School 
complains to the local police marshal about the aggressive actions of Romanian 
students against their Jewish comrades. 

15th January 1925, Oradea - Several Law School students want to take up 
again their classes with Prof Monotolescu, though he offended their Romanian 

3rd February 1925, Oradea - Christian students appeal to the Rector that 
their expelled comrades should be taken back, "otherwise their places would be 
occupied by Jews". 


Lucian Nastasa 

3rd February 1925, Iasi - The Investigating Commission reports on cases 
of violence against Jewish students. 

3rd April 1925, Bucharest - Rabbi L. Tzirelson MP, raises questions in 
Parliament on the violent acts by Christian students in Focsani, occasioned by the 
trial of Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu, who murdered marshal Manciu. 

10th April 1925, Iasi - Jewish students complain that they are harassed at 
exams. An investigation concludes that their low rate of pass grades is not due to 
their level of achievement but to their confession. 

14th December 1925, Bucharest - The University of Bucharest decides to 
suspend classes because of anti-Semitic disturbances. 

26th January 1926, Bucharest - No Jewish body was brought for 
dissection that academic year, the dean of the Medical School complains to the 
minister, so he cannot let Jewish students attend anatomy classes. 

9th February 1926, Cluj - A Christian student from Cluj university, 
accused of aggression against a Jewish comrade, is tried in Iasi. 

6th March 1926, Iasi - A group of Medicine students complain to the dean 
of having been insulted by Christian students. 

9th March 1926, Bucharest - The Rector of the University asks the 
approval of the Ministry of Education to bring in police to the premises of the 
University in order to stop violence. 

14th March 1926, Iasi - As violent manifestations continue, the Ministry 
decides on the closure of the university. 

8th April 1926, Iasi - The Rector applies to the minister for reopening the 
University, being sure that police and army will assure order. 

12th June 1926, Iasi - Jewish students of the Medical School drop their 
earlier complaints before a committee of investigation and accuse nobody of 
having insulted them. 

3rd February 1927, Bucharest - An organisation called "National Jewish 
Club" offers support to Jewish students if they choose to continue their studies 

24th February 1927, Bucharest - State Security memo on unrest because 
of the acquittal of young student Nicolae Totu from Czernowitz, who killed his 
Jewish comrade David Falik during an anti-Semitic demonstration. 

10th October 1927, Iasi - A senior Jewish student applies for being re- 
enrolled at the University after his earlier expulsion and arrest with suspicion of 
espionage which turned out to be false. 

26th November 1927, Iasi - Students demand new election for the 
leadership of the "Student Society of Philosophy and Letters" claiming that anti- 
Semitic comrades falsified the outcome. 

12th December 1927, Bucharest - In Parliament MP Filderman raises 
questions about the events in Oradea, reminding the Prime Minister of the 
measures already taken in order to stop anti-Semitic manifestations. 

23rd December 1927, Bucharest - A communique issued in the capital 
condemns the anti-Semitic atrocities in Oradea and Cluj and threatens with the 


Lucian Nastasa 

expulsion of their participants. - Students from the University of Bucharest are 
present on an anti-Semitic Student Convention held in Oradea. 

2nd January 1928, Bucharest - Christian students disturb a Jewish ritual 
act and destroy their sacred book, a State Security memo says. 

3rd January 1928, Bucharest - Jewish ceremonies: the fragments of the 
destroyed Torah are buried in Isai, Chisinau, Bacau and Oradea. 

10th January 1928, Iasi - The Senate of the University condemns the 
recent anti-Semitic atrocities in Oradea and warns the Ministry of Education 
against granting permission to such conventions in the future. 

12th January 1928, Bucharest - The Rabbinic Council complains about the 
desecration of synagogues during the Student Convention in Oradea. 

26th January 1928, Bucharest - Senator I. Clinciu questions the Parliament 
about the student conventions held in Oradea, Hunedin, Targu Ocna and Iasi later 
last year. 

6th March 1928, Chisinau - State Security warns about possible unrest 
among students on account of a trial against A. C. Cuza. 

6th March 1928, Bucharest - W. Filderman questions in the Parliament 
about the aggression against Jew students of Law in the capital. 

7th April 1928, Iasi - A student complains that the Dean will not apply 
ethnic discrimination at the contest for internment practice in the "Saint 
Spiridion" Hospital. 

21st April 1928, Chisinau - Anti-Semitic conflict provoked by a few 
Christian students in the city. 

20th June 1928, Chisinau - Anti-Semitic students try to attack Jews 
crossing the local park. 

23rd June, 1928, Chisinau - Bessarabian students from Iasi University 
attack several Jewish students that came home by train. 

4th July 1928, Chisinau - Police warning about local students and those 
from other campuses who might instigate anti-Semitic incidents in the town. 

17th November 1928, Cluj - New instances of anti-Semitic violence; a 
connection is established between the National Christian Defence League (LANC 
in Romanian) and the anti-Semitic incidents. 

2nd December 1928, Bucharest - A meeting of Romanian Jewish Union 
discusses the attitude of the government towards anti-Semitic movements and 
criticizes the position taken by Filderman in the issue of bodies for dissecting. 

4th December 1928, Bacau - Christian students assault a Jew on the train; 
other Jews defend him in Bacau railway station. 

5th December 1928, Cluj - Academic Society "Petru Maior" warns the 
Dean of the Faculty of Letters to suspend classes on 10th December which is an 
anniversary day of the demand for the introduction of the numerus clausus, for 
fear that Jewish students might be insulted or attacked. 

17th December 1928, Bucharest - The Ministry of Interior orders special 
measures to be taken to prevent anti-Semitic incidents when students leave for and 
return from the holidays. 


Lucian Nastasa 

20th December 1929, Iasi - Violent clashes between Christian and Jewish 
students on 16th and 18th December; police inspector takes a list of complainants 
on both sides. 

9th January 1930, Bucharest - Ministry of Defence orders the Army to 
intervene in universities, at the explicit request of the rectors. 

28th January 1930, Iasi - A violent clash between Christian and Jewish 
students in the Chemistry Laboratory of the Faculty of Medicine. 

30th January 1930, Iasi - The rector punishes the Christian students 
responsible for the recent anti-Semitic disorder and revokes the licence of activity 
from the Christian Students' Association. 

14th February 1930, Bucharest - S. Rozenberg questions the Parliament on 
the recent anti-Semitic incidents in Chisinau, instigated by the students of 
Theology, and on the obvious connections between the violence and the electoral 
propaganda of certain political parties. 

26th February 1930, Chisinau - The Dean of the Faculty of Theology 
investigates the case and finds Christian students behind the events. 

12th March 1930, Cluj - Leaders of the nationalist student organization 
protest against the brutal police intervention during their demonstrations. 

22nd March, 1930, Iasi - The Rector reports to the ministry on some anti- 
Semitic incidents and on the passivity of the police. 

25th March 1930, Iasi - Several Jewish students are arrested and convicted 
for "rebellion". 

1st April 1930, Iasi - A conflict between Christian and Jewish students at 
the Faculty of Medicine 

2nd April 1930, Iasi - Prof. Gr. T. Popa's statement on anti-Semitic 
violence at the Faculty of Medicine during two days in a row; his suggestions to 
prevent further actions of this kind. 

7th April 1930, Iasi - A Jewish student complains that he was forced to 
leave the university, having been repeatedly attacked by anti-Semitic students. 

14th May 1930, Iasi - Two Jewish students from the Faculty of Science 
complain about being insulted or brutally beaten by their Christian colleagues. 

23rd May 1930, Bucharest - A.C. Cuza questioned in the Parliament about 
the "provocative" attitudes of Jews that caused "great anxiety" in the Christian 

31st May 1930, Bucharest - Police reports on anti-Semitic violence 
committed by members of the Christian Student Union. 

22nd June 1930, Czernowitz - Bucovina lawyers protest against 
devastation provoked by adepts of A. C. Cuza, and demand that authorities should 
do their best to prevent more serious violence. 

October 1930, Iasi - A young Jewish student from the Faculty of Medicine 
appeals to the King for another try of his examination, because Prof. C. 
Sumuleanu failed him as a punishment, he had namely witnessed in a trial against 
anti-Semitic students. 

Lucian Nastasa 

3rd January 1931, Bucharest - The Ministry of Education instructs the 
rectors to dismiss from the universities the anti-Semitic students who provoke 

10th February 1931, Bucharest - News of violence in Czernowitz against 
the typography of a Jewish newspaper Vorwarts and anti-Semitic agitation against 
an actress from the National Theatre. 

15th February 1931, Paris - The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Paris 
presents statistics to the Romanian minister of public instruction about Romanians 
that study in Paris. As the quarter of them are Jews, he considers the introduction 
of a numerus clausus for them. 

10th March 1931, Bucharest - In his question in the Romanian Parliament 
A. C. Cuza condemns the attitude of the Rector of Polytechnic School in 
Timisoara who turns down anti-Semitic students who have sent him accusations 
against their comrades. 

22nd April 1931, Bucharest - The minister of public education requires the 
Rector of the Bucharest University to investigate how a Zionist student 
convention could be held there. 

24th October 1931, Bucharest - The Ministry of Public Education orders 
the exclusion from the University of Cluj of a Jewish student, member of a 
Communist organization. 

24th January 1932, Iasi - Anti-Semitic demonstration with the 
participation of some local students. 

5th April 1932, Cluj - The Society of Medical Students requests the 
Senate to inquire after and to punish several Jewish students they accuse of 
holding Communist views. 

28th November 1932, Bucharest - Jewish and Hungarian students from the 
Academy of Commerce and the university are suspected to be Communists or to 
be involved in the Zionist movement. 

21st January 1933, Turnu Magurele - The local synagogue is damaged by 
some students from Bucharest, many of them from the Academy of Commerce. 

13th February 1933, Iasi - Several professors accuse state authorities of 
too much tolerance in restraining student movements and violence outside the 

13th March 1933, Cluj - Jewish students from the Law School are 
excluded from Law Students Society at the demand of the Christian Student 
Union; so they inform the Rector that they want to create their own professional 

21st April 1933, Cluj - The Pharmaceutical Student Society denounce a 
Jewish colleague who would spread handouts among those of his race to 
propagate the boycott of Christians. 

1st May 1933 Cluj - the Medicine Students Society decide not to allow 
Jewish students to attend classes for a week. 


Lucian Nastasa 

8th May 1933, Cluj - Prof. V. Papilian from the Faculty of Medicine asks 
for effective measures against the students who hinder their Jewish comrades in 
attending their classes. 

9th May 1933, Cluj - The University Senate condemns Christian students 
for keeping their Jewish colleagues from attending their class. 

1 lth May 1933, Cluj - Many Jewish students complain that they are kept 
from their classes. 

12th May 1933, Cluj - The head of the Faculty of Pathology explains that 
the suspension of classes is the outcome of anti-Semitic violence. 

15th May 1933, Cluj - The anti-Semitic actions of the Christian students 

15th May 1933, Iasi - Christian students in turmoil as their leader - who 
advocated numerus clausus - is expelled from the University. 

16th May 1933, Cluj - the Law Student Society decides not to allow Jews 
in the future to attend university classes. The head of the Faculty of Pathology 
notifies the Dean of the situation. 

19th May 1933, Cluj - The University Senate decide to punish the 
members of the Law Student Society's committee for having participated in 
unauthorized meetings and wanted to expel Jews from the university. 

30th May 1933 Timisoara - State Security notifies that Jews buy guns to 
protect themselves in case of anti-Semitic attacks. 

10th June 1933, Cluj - Jewish students pursue Communist propaganda at 
the University Library spreading the magazine "Revolutionary Student". 

20th May 1935, Bucharest - A Court Martial convicts several students for 
participation in anti-Semitic violence in the previous month. 

20th May 1935, Cluj - the Medicine Student Society refuses to attend 
classes until numerus clausus is introduced; their decision is also an act of 
solidarity and protestation against the conviction of their colleagues in Bucharest 
for anti-Semitic violence. 

23rd May 1935, Bucharest - The Medicine Student Society proves by 
statistics that "minorities" dominate the profession of medicine. 

19th August 1935, Bucharest - A Jewish student from Romania who 
studies in Brno proves allegedly to be a "passionate pro-Hungarian". 

20th Januar 1935, Cluj - The newspaper "Uj Kelet" intercedes with the 
University Rector for two Jewish students who want to continue their studies in 

6th May 1936, Cluj - Christian students ask the intervention of their 
professors for their leaders arrested for taking part in a student's Convention in 
Targu Mures. 

19th November 1936, Cluj - Christian students refuse to attend the classes 
of the Faculty of Medicine because Jews too have been enrolled. 

16th April 1937, Cluj - The Relief Association of Transylvanian Jewish 
Students requests the Rector to revise the list of scholarships and to include more 
Jewish students. 

Lucian Nastasa 

27th July 1937, Upper Vicov (Suceava) - Minor anti-Semitic incident 

28th September 1937, Bucharest - On the day of the admission exam 
intruders enter the University - Christian students from the Medical School and 
the Academy of Commerce with the declared purpose of hindering the Jews in 
passing the exams. 

14th December 1937, Bucharest - The General Association of Medicine 
Students called for a maximum of severity in the equalisation of medical diplomas 
obtained abroad. 

23rd February 1938, Cluj - The penalty of expulsion is maintained in case 
of some Jewish students, if they were condemned for "crimes against the state's 

12th April 1938, Alba Iulia - The general Association of Jewish Students 
in Romania is denied the prolongation of its activity licence. 

June 1939, Iasi - a Jewish practitioner who has studied in Pavia complains 
that the university of Iasi refuses to recognize his diploma. 

40 I express my special thanks to Istvan Totfalusi for his stylistical work on my paper. 


Jctnos M.Bak 

Janos M. Bak 

Memories about a segregated "Jewish Class" in a 
Budapest grammar school - 1939-1947 

On 8 September, 1939, just a week after the first gunshots of Second 
World War were fired, thirty-eight ten year old boys (myself included) entered the 
I/B class of the (eight-year) Humanist secondary school named after a nineteenth- 
century poet, the Budapesti V. keruleti magyar kirdlyi Berzsenyi Daniel 
gimndzium [Daniel Berzsenyi Hungarian Royal Grammar-School in Budapest 
fifth district] (henceforth: BDG). It was a historical moment, not only in the life 
of the youngsters, but also, because this was the first gimndzium class in Hungary 
organized according to religion: it was a segregated Jewish class. 

The I/B class in Spring 1940 

In the wake of the Second Law on Jews (Law IV of 1939), it was decided 
that a numerus clausus would be introduced in high-schools: most schools would 
admit at most 2-3 Jews to every class (by religion, "Israelites," not yet according 

An earlier version of the article was published in : The Hungarian Quarterly 50 (2009) 195 
(Autumn), pp. 81-91. Reprinted with the kind permission of the editor. 

Jdnos M.Bak 

to Nurnberg racial criteria, although the law was already stricter) and three 
Budapest boys' grammar schools open entire segregated "Jewish classes." 2 The 
I/B of BDG was such a class. 

BDG was one of the best state grammar schools in Budapest. Several of its 
faculty members held honorary or part-time university positions as dr. habil. 
(advanced scholarly degree), thus eligible to professorship. (At least two of our 
teachers became well-known professors of Budapest University.) Founded in 
1858, BDG was located in centre city, in Marko utca, near to the seat of the local 
and high courts (and their jail), in what was called Lipotvaros (named after the 
Archduke Leopold of Habsburg). Part of this district was on the northern side of 
the koriit, the ring-road, developed in the early twentieth century, an area of 
modern housing (Ujlipotvdros=NQw Leopold town), inhabited in great part by 
members of the professional middle class, many of them assimilated Jews. As an 
indication of this concentration of Jews, I remember that a great number (perhaps 
some 40%) of the so-called "Jewish houses" were located in this district. (In June 
1944, Jews had to move from other blocks into crowded flats: one room per 
family in houses marked by huge yellow stars of David. ) Moreover, the 
"International Ghetto" (houses under the protection of the foreign embassies), was 
also located here, in the neighborhood of St Stephen's Park. 5 Students of BDG 
came in their majority from Leopold-town, old and new. 

In the following, I attempt to reconstruct, as far as possible, the fate of the 
thirty six boys and men of the I/B class (two pupils left before the end of the first 
year and we know nothing about them), during their study at BDG and in the 
sixty-two years since their graduation (erettsegi, baccalaureate) in 1947. While 
this is certainly not a random sample, it is rather a typical cohort of Jewish middle 
class males of the generation born in 1928/9. It may be, thus, of interest as a "case 
study" of sorts. My summary is based on the memory of those classmates whom I 

2 1 do not know how many "Jewish classes" were opened in girl's grammar schools. Before WWII 
schools in Hungary were not coeducational. It is worth noting that due to the school's location, 
the pupils of BDG were in the previous years also in the majority Jews or of Jewish background. 
In the year before us ca. 60% of the pupils were identified as "Israelites" by religion. 

3 Tibor Kardos, a renaissance scholar, was professor and for many years dean of the Arts Faculty 
of ELTE University, Budapest; Istvan Borzsak was professor and for long time head of the Dept. 
of Latin Philology at ELTE. Laszlo Vajtho taught at the Technical University and was a famous 
editor and sponsor of both old and modern Hungarian literature. Our science professors Pal Bite 
and Laszlo Karadi also held positions in higher education. There could have been more. Actually, 
the director of BDG during our first years, Janos Palffy, taught also at the university as 

4 See Szabolcs Szita, "A budapesti csillagos hazak (1944-45)" [The houses with star in Budapest], 
Remeny Spring 2002 [ accessed at on 20 May, 2009]. My family 
had to give up a four-room flat in a house declared "non-Jewish" and move into a room near the 
River Danube. I wasn't too unhappy, for there were a number of young people, some friendly and 
pretty girls, and good company. 

5 Actually, presently the district is (again?) seen as a quarter of liberal Jews and was a target of 
right-wing groups, including a Molotov-cocktail attack at a shop just a year ago. The nickname 
"New-Zs-land" (where Zs stands for "zsido" — Jew) seems to be current for the area. 


Jctnos M.Bak 

have been able to consult in 2007-10 personally or by correspondence, and on 
information available in the public domain, documents or biographical entries in 
encyclopedias. Five of us live in Budapest, and I was able to contact ten others in 
different parts of the world. However, besides the original class who started 
school in 1939, our "community of memory" is larger: we remember an additional 
few boys, who joined the class in the course of the subsequent eight years for 
longer or shorter periods of time. In 1942, BDG was amalgamated with a 
neighboring school, the former Bolyai redlgimndzium (science oriented high 
school), whence four students joined the class. After the war, the class was 
reorganized — now, of course, not on religious or racial lines — thus we graduated 
in the VIII/A or the VIII/B class 

The VIII/B graduating class with its professors, May 1947. 

As can be expected from a group long ago separated, the response of the 
surviving classmates to my information-gathering was very diverse. The few, who 
first responded, were emigres, but not the academics. Then, some of them were 
skeptical about the whole project (of putting together a "virtual class reunion" on 
the web) and suggested that I just list the "famous" members (those who in 
politics or otherwise acquired public name) and forget about the rest. I found it 
typical for the social-cultural group that achievements in science or business 
counted little in their/our minds. Two or three former classmates did not wish to 
be, by name, associated with a "Jewish" history or simply did not want to have 
their names or whereabouts made publicly accessible (at that point we were 


Jctnos M.Bak 

planning to make a homepage with the class list). Gradually, most others — some 
only after two-three letters and my insistence — supplied me with information, but 
a few remained, who did not feel like sharing their life history with me/us. 
Finally, I circulated my collection to all known class mates and most of them were 
pleased with receiving it; a few helped me formulate this commemoration of our 
past. Some even got in touch with long lost friends though the list. 

Our memories of the eight years (or less) at BDG are, of course, a mix of 
typical high-school experiences and some specific ones as being young Jews in 
the ever more repressive atmosphere of Horthy's (and then Szalasi's) Hungary. In 
general, it seems that the school did not actively discriminate against the "Jewish 
classes" (there were four more following ours). That, for example, when, because 
of war-time shortages the heating of the building became a problem and some 
classes were taught in the afternoon (while usually secondary school instruction 
ended at 1 or 2 p.m.), two of the Jewish classes were moved to the less 
comfortable afternoon hours, may not have been motivated by Anti-Semitism. 
But, perhaps, it was. 

j-U i__p J - 

- - :jl_ r _LJ " *- 

The IV/C class in 1943, with Dr Egner in the middle 

Actually, in the annuals of BDG between 1939 and 1943 the words zsido 
osztdly (Jewish class) features, if I am not mistaken, only once, when it is stated 
that in the second semester of 1943, "National Defence" was not taught to them. 
(By that time some of the pupils' fathers were serving as unarmed conscripts in 
labor companies at the Russian front, often exposed to murderous treatment by 
their superiors.) At some point, we were also separated from the mandatory 


Jdnos M.Bak 

paramilitary training as "Levente," and assigned — in a way parallel to our parents' 
fate — to some auxiliary tasks. Surveying the faculty assigned to these classes, 
there is no indication whatsoever that they would not have been taught by the best 
professors. Moreover, there were such gestures as the initiative of our class 
teacher and Latin professor Sandor Egner in 1941 or 1942 to hold a Chanukah 
feast in the class instead of (or besides) the general Christmas celebrations of the 
school. (Dr Egner, a polyglot maverick of German background, grew up in 
Maramaros [Marumures], a multiethnic region with a sizeable orthodox Jewish 
population, thus well acquainted with Jewish holidays. 7 ) I am not sure, whether 
Professor Vajtho, who regularly prepared publications of old Hungarian literature 
with his Berzsenyi pupils, selected our class for a planned volume of "Quotation 
from World Literature," assuming a more "cosmopolitan" attitude of ours. Most 
of us knew at least German well, as we had Austrian nannies (Frduleins) as kids. 
(The several hundred index cards collected got lost in the war.) 

One of my classmates went as far as wishing to record that "BDG was an 
island of peace and tolerance in the midst of the storm of blood." Surely, there 


were plenty Anti-Semitic teachers (even card-carrying Nazis) and the nationalist- 
chauvinist rituals, mandatory in the Horthy-era — public recital of revanchist 
poetry, prayer for our soldiers fighting a 'defensive war' (!) in Russia — were also 
imposed on us, but grosso modo, this statement holds true. Someone knew that 
one or another of our teachers was helping pupils to escape persecution. 9 
Classmates remember fights with pupils of the non- Jewish classes, but I also 
remember fights with the pupils of the high-school across the street, which 
counted as "BDG-tradition." How much of that was different from typical boys' 
roughing it up is difficult to decide ex post. Actually, in the darkest months of 
persecution in 1944, we did not attend school, anyhow. We could not after April 
8, when Jews, obligated to wear a yellow star were under a partial curfew and 
allowed to be on the streets only for a few hours. And, of course, in the Fall of 
1944, when most Budapest Jews were confined to a walled-in ghetto, we were 
equally excluded from going to school. 

6 1 do not know, whether that kind of petty corruption enjoyed by some teachers who "organized" 
that mothers bring them box-lunches on set days, was special for (rich?) Jewish pupils or not, but I 
suspect so. 

7 I understand that Dr Egner attended several family receptions a propos the bar mitzvah of my 

8 One may risk to assume that those who were members of Admiral Horthy's "Order of the 
Valiants" ( Vitezi Rend), an institution founded for rewarding active supporters of the regime, were 
ex officio Anti-Semites; and both the first director and one of our teachers over several years were 
proud members of it. But, I believe, this title was also granted to decorated officers of the First 
World War without explicit political involvement. 

9 Gyula Horvath, gym-teacher, at the same time instructor of the paramilitary Levente classes, 
allowed me to manufacture a good number of blank Levente-ID cards with the stamp "Of 
Christian origin including four grandparents" which could the be written out in any name, even 
with photo. They were very helpful for many friends of mine at police or Arrow-cross [Hungarian 
Nazi] raids. 

Jdnos M.Bak 

As said above, after the war the sixth grade (for the short spring time, as 
the school was damaged during the siege and reopened only in March 1945) was 
restructured and remained thus for the last years. We registered sadly our — in 
comparison of the project of Endlosung, relatively few — losses caused by the 
German and Hungarian Nazi mass murder of Jews. That only (!?) three boys of 
the class (maybe four) were killed during the Shoah, is not surprising: the survival 
chances of the sons of professional upper middle class of Budapest with ample 
financial means and good connections to non-Jews were generally good. Many of 
us were able to procure false papers, 10 find Gentile friends who hid Jews, and 
most of us had simply good luck. (Such as the Arrow-cross thug taking fancy at 
the pretty sister of one of our classmates and let them go, but time ran out on him 
to show up and "collect reward"...). I have no precise data on the fate of my 
classmates from these months, but as far as I know many of them were in hiding 
with false identity papers, others survived in the Budapest Ghetto and a few in 
houses (more or less) protected by foreign embassies. Two or three boys were 
taken into marching groups towards Germany, but managed to escape. By age, we 
were just at the margin of those who survived as "children" and those who were 
more endangered (taken to labor battalions or the like) as "young men." To be 
sure, the adults, such as our parents and older siblings, fared much less well. I 
have no precise numbers, but great many of them were killed in forced-labor 
companies, extermination camps, or were shot on the shores of the Danube in 

One boy was killed by a splinter during the allied bombardment of 
Budapest and one died in an accident soon after liberation. A few classmates 
emigrated before the end of the eight years, so only twenty of the original thirty- 
six graduated together in 1947. During the two post-war years many of us were 
engaged in politics outside of school and also spent quite some time attending the 
war-crimes trials (and public executions) in the court buildings next door to BDG. 

In the sixty-odd years that passed since our graduation, Hungary went 
through several changes of regimes, which I need not repeat here. Not 
surprisingly, some of our classmates families left just before the Shoah (one, I 
believe, by allijah beth [illegal immigration] for Palestine), or soon after the war 
(at least eleven, mostly to the Americas), when Communist take-over threatened 
the existence of entrepreneurs and free professionals alike. But it seems that the 
majority remained in Hungary and studied at universities or academies. And/or 
did his duty as conscript in the Hungarian Peoples' Army (at least five of us). 
However, during the Stalinist period, some were not allowed into higher 
education because of their "bourgeois origin." Yet, finally, as far as we know, 
almost all earned a diploma or a respectable trade. 

10 A good method was to pretend to be refugees from Transylvania, by that time occupied by the 
Soviet Army Romanian troops, and thus having lost original documents. Once one identity card as 
"refugee" was issued, one could proceed to obtain other useful documents, e.g. ration-cards for 
bread and meat. 


Jdnos M.Bak 

Many of us — but I have no exact data on this — supported the Communist 
regime at least for some time. This was, of course, typical for young Jews, who 
expected that the Communists would be the most consistent Anti-Fascists and 
lead the retribution for the crimes committed against Jews and other enemies of 
Nazism. It seemed logical that the explicitly declared enemies of the past regime, 
in which we were discriminated and persecuted, would be the right friends. In 
spite of our liberal, democratic — or Social Democratic — education, many of us 
embraced Communism, as it seemed to offer unequivocal solutions for the 
complicated post-war situation. Let us not forget that in the first years it was by no 
means clear (to us!) that this militant movement with its romantic underground 
past and impressive intellectual heritage would become the instrument of ruthless 
repression. It took us a few years to realize that our initial expectations would be 
betrayed. The show trials, the inner-party purges, and the realization of the 
country's having been driven to ruins by "our Party" gradually opened the eyes of 
many of us. n This process was different with each person and some of my 
classmates seem to have decided to stay with the "winning" party — by conviction 
or for their carriers — till the bitter end. 

The next round of emigration followed the defeat of the revolution of 
1956, when at least five of us left Hungary. The emigrants about whom we know 
live or lived all across the world: four ended up in Europe (UK, France, Spain), 
five in North America, five in Brasil, three in Australia. Several spent shorter 
times in other countries, including Israel. Because of the "unknown" category, it 
is not quite clear, whether a slight majority or a slight minority remained in 
Hungary. I am the only one who returned to Budapest after the fall of 
Communism; several emigres visited Budapest in the last decades. 

A few summary statistics. According to the Annual [Evkonyv] of BDG for 
the school-year 1939/40 (pp. 55-6), the profession of the parents of the I/B class 

Factory owner 


Industrial employee* 






Commercial employee* 


Other professional** 




* I translate tisztviselo, 'clerk' as employee, since this category covered persons from 
bookkeepers to senior managers alike. [My father was, for example, at that time something like 
vice-president of a firm, but would have been included in one of these categories.] 

More on this, regarding also my personal experience, see Gyorgy Litvan, "Finding (and 
Losing?) The Right Path Together (1945-48)," in: ... The Man of Many Devices, Who Wandered 
Full Many Ways... Festschrift in Honor of Jdnos M. Bak, ed. Balazs Nagy & Marcell Sebok 
(Budapest: :CEU Press, 1999), pp. 13-7. 

Jdnos M.Bak 

** The catch-all category 'other professionals' (egyeb ertelmisegi) does not allow more 
than stating that a third of the pupils came from families of lawyers, medical doctors, engineers, 
and the like. It is, of course, conspicuous that such categories as public servant or army officer 
(very much present in the other classes) are empty, in the wake of the "restriction of Jews in public 

The fate of the class (including some temporary classmates) in a few 
categories was, approximately, as follows. In terms of demography: six or seven 
died before 1947 (three or four as victims of persecution); three died young 
(before 1967), seven in middle age (before 1994, the last well attended class 
reunion). Nine died since, eighteen are still alive, while we know nothing of six 

1 9 

others. A few classmates wrote to me about their family, but not enough to 
include anything about them into the "statistics. "As to post-secondary studies 
arts and social sciences 10; economics 6; engineering 6; medicine 6; science 6 
other or none 4; unknown 5. Professional life: social sciences and humanities 6 
engineering 5; medical (clinical and research) 6; other science 5; media 2 
management 9; other 2; unknown 8. (In the case of change of career, I took the 
one longest pursued.) 

As much as I was able to reconstruct of the careers of the classmates, 
almost everyone about whom we know had a fairly successful life. A few of us 
acquired a public profile. Andras Roman (born Rechnitz), an architect, is regarded 
as one of the founding fathers of modern monument preservation efforts in 
Hungary; the rescue of the World Heritage Village, Holloko, was his major 
project. Emil Horn, historian and museologist, sat up the first historical exhibition 
(still under Communism) about the persecution and mass murder of Hungarian 
Jews. Dan Danieli (born Denes Faludi), who had served several years in the 
Israeli Air Force, became known as a researcher of the Holocaust and for his 
successful efforts in getting the merits of Captain Ocskay in rescuing the life of a 
great number of Hungarian Jews acknowledged in Hungary and abroad. Gyorgy 
Litvan (who studied with us for a year) was not only a highly regarded historian, 
but also famous for having been the first to openly call upon the dictator Rakosi to 
resign in the spring of 1956. He suffered several years of jail for it and for his role 
in the revolution and the resistance thereafter. Fittingly, in 1989, he became the 
founding director of the Institute for the History of the 1956 Revolution. Marton 
Tardos (born Neuschloss), an economist, who graduated with us, was a leading 
figure of the democratic opposition, theorist of transitional economics, and MP for 
the Free Democrats for several years. Early losses of the class were the 
philosopher Peter Ladanyi, throughout eight years one of the two always eminent 
students — straight As — in competition with the similarly straight-A fellow 

12 Most of these are from the category of "transient" classmates. That holds true for the "unknown" 
group in the other statistics as well. 

13 One of his major opponents in Communist times was a schoolmate of ours from the parallel 
("non-Jewish") class, for a while head of the Marxism-Leninism Dept. of the Ministry of 
Education, who denounced Litvan' s "heroes ," the Hungarian non-Marxist progressive authors 
(such as Oscar Jaszi, whose biography he wrote). Actually, he is the only person from that class 
whose name became known later — at least, to me. 


Jdnos M.Bak 

philosopher, Robert Partos. Both of them studied with George Lukacs, Ladanyi 
was remembered as an excellent teacher, though not a Marxist 14 — and both died 
young. Janos Korda, our post-war classmate (as baptized Jew) became a 
renowned engineer in Hungary, vice-president of the National Chamber of 
Engineers. Among the six classmates in medicine and related fields one earned 
merits in developing medication for tuberculosis, another (external member of the 
Hungarian Academy of Sciences) in the field of interferon research; a 
mathematician became well-known for his work on calculus. Two classmates 
were active in Hungarian film and television; four are professors emeriti of 
universities in Hungary and abroad; six retired as senior managers of major 
companies. We know only of one or two failed existences, but maybe those who 
vanished from our horizon were not exactly successful either. 

All in all, it seems to be true that in spite of first Nazi and then Communist 
discrimination and persecution of the Jewish (later also non- Jewish) middle class, 
the ca. fifty men of my larger sample managed to retain — or regain—the social 
status that their parents had held, at home or abroad. Several of my classmates 
underlined that the years spent at BDG were most important for their professional 
development and looked back at them with pride and satisfaction. If I am not 
mistaken, those, who had left Hungary, succeeded in rising higher than their 
parents, while to achieve public acclaim was more likely for those, who stayed. 
An exact comparison of the profession of the parents and the sons is not possible 
from my fragmentary information, yet I guess that it would be rather similar. The 
factory owner and the commercial (wholesale and retail) categories would be 
replaced by entrepreneurial and senior managerial positions and among the sons 
of free professionals several would have become university teachers. An 
American friend of mine summarized the story thus: "Take a bunch of 
Bildungs bilrger kids, add depression, discrimination, war, persecution of Jews, 
Stalinism, revolution and counterrevolution — and half a century later you get a 
bunch of Bildungsbiirger grandpas." Quite. 

Even though this was a "Jewish class" I know not enough about the 
relationship of my classmates to Judaism during our school-time or thereafter. 
From my limited impressions, I suspect that for the majority religion and Jewish 
culture was and remained rather marginal. While the grandparents had been 
mostly more or less observant Jews, already the parents went to temple only 
rarely, on the great holidays or for the sake of their parents. None of us 
remembers, for example, classmates in whose households Jewish dietary rules 
would have been strictly observed, while I know that in many a family Christmas 

14 The philosopher, Mihaly Vajda remembered about him: "In my second year at the Lenin- 
Institute, we could chose between 'scientific socialism,' and 'philosophy.' I took, of course, the 
latter. And lo and behold, a young man by the name of P. L. taught us history of philosophy, 
someone, who understood the Greeks and who did not talk about an author unless he read all his 
surviving words. He committed suicide a few years later; I know not, whether because of the 
persecution he suffered after the revolution ...". [ 
1382.html - Accessed 1 May 2009] - my translation. 

Jdnos M.Bak 

trees were set up, even if the presents were not assigned to "little Jesus." No 
doubt, all of us were made aware of the negative implication of being Jews (even 
though the fact was hardly unknown before to all of us) when we encountered 
official discrimination. If I remember well, during the dark years of 1942-44, 
several of my classmates observed Jewish customs (such as bar-mitzvah) more 
seriously than they might have without the external pressure of discrimination. 
(True, one of them pointed out that it was a good occasion to get nice presents. 
The watch he received then is still working.) Religious instruction in school — 
mandatory until 1946 — was rather formal. We were supposed to attend synagogue 
service every week, but nobody controlled it seriously. For most of the six or 
seven years our teacher was Adolf Fisch (a.k.a. Andrew Jozsef) otherwise 
inspector of religious teaching, but as far as we remember, his classes were more 
about problems of life and everyday psychology than strictly Jewish subjects. 7 
Still, we seem to have learned enough liturgical Hebrew for one of our classmates, 
who served on an American aircraft carrier, being able to act as "lay rabbi" on the 
ship for a few years; thus he was the only "official Jew" among us. As to our later 
life, I know about quite a few mixed marriages and we have seen that none of us 
remained (even if started out there) in Israel. 18 I am not aware of any of my ex- 
classmates being an active or observant Jew (or serious practitioner of any other 
religion, for that matter). I know that the one who married to a Sabra keeps the 
high holidays, but more for family reasons that for religiosity. Such attitudes are 
not surprising for the Lipotvaros professional (and other) middle class of then — or 

A certain Jewish identity was enforced, by discrimination, for many of 
us — I think, at least a dozen boys from the class — who belonged to one of the 
boy-scout troops expelled from the Hungarian Boy Scouts Association in 1940, as 
"Jews." The No. 311 Vorosmarty and the No. 191 Miklos Toldi Boy Scout Troop 
were either expressly Jewish or at least consisting mostly of assimilated Jewish 

15 In contrast to the famous survey of Eros Ferenc-Kovacs Andras-Levai Katalin: "Hogyan jottem 
ra, hogy zsido vagyok?" [How did I find that I am Jewish?"], Medvetdnc, 1985/2-3 pp 129-145, 
which found that some persons did not know this till late in age if at all, none of us would have 
been unaware of our official denomination, as in inter-war Hungary religious instruction at school 
was mandatory. All those who were registered as "izr." had to attend classes on Jewish religion 
and learn a little bit of liturgical Hebrew. 

16 I believe, it is characteristic that the Nobel Prize laureate Imre Kertesz (slightly younger than us) 
found it credible that the hero of his Fatelessness, a 14-year old Budapest Jewish boy, heard the 
Kaddish recited first time in the concentration camp. We learned a little bit more. 

17 His postwar activity is recorded by Attila Novak "Jewish Homes and Orphanages in Hungary 
after World War II" [ - Accessed May 10, 
2009]. He was arrested in the infamous "Zionist trial" and released only after Stalin's death. He 
finally became a math teacher in a Budapest school. We always had the impression that he lived of 
religious instruction only faute de mieux. 

18 1 heard recently that one of the grandchildren became a religious Jew (after a visit to Hungary!) 
and is presently studying in a rabbinical institute in Jerusalem. 


Jdnos M.Bak 

youth. 1 Scouting was a very important youth movement in inter-war Hungary. 
Troops were supported by churches, schools, even factories. (In 1933, one of the 
major international Jamborees was held in Godollo, near Budapest and the 
scholar-politician, twice prime minister, Count Pal Teleki, was chief 
scoutmaster. ) The Vorosmarty troop was founded in 1924 by — and remained 
connected to — the Buda Israelite Congregation. The Toldi was even older, 
amalgamated from several earlier troops in 1922. While Vorosmarty was 
formally connected to a religious sponsor, Toldi was supported by a consortium of 
schools and later by the Hungarian Esperanto Society, but had only very few non- 
Jewish members. Tolerance for believers and non-believers was characteristic for 

At the 80 th anniversary of the foundation of No. 311, the speaker spelled 
out: "Our identity was fourfold: that of Magyars, of Jews, of Boy Scouts — and, 
above all, we were Vorosmarty boys and girls." We were deeply disturbed when, 
in 1941, we were being disallowed to display the triangular badge hungaria on our 
(now also prohibited but in parts retained) uniforms. We had been just as keen in 
gathering and singing Hungarian folk songs and saluting the red-white-green 
tricolor, as any other boy scout troop in Hungary, and (as I see from Vorosmarty 
publications as far back as the 1930s) "Christmas hikes" were listed 
unproblematically besides Chanukah celebrations. Our perception of being 
persecuted increased, and our patriotism certainly decreased when first the oldest 
and then all the senior scouts were called up into labor companies and the long- 
cherished tents of summer camps and other equipment were sacrificed to have 
good wind jackets and backpacks made for them. Few of them returned after the 



However sketchy and subjective all this may be, I know of no similar 
inquiry about the fate of a comparable group, such as the other Jewish classes at 
BDG, that started in 1940-43 (one of them including George Soros). A few years 
of age difference made their fates in many respects different from ours. . Yet, 

19 Mihaly Vorosmarty (1800-55) was one of the leading poets of the reform era. Toldi was a knight 
in the fourteenth century, made famous by an epic poem of the nineteenth-century writer Janos 
Arany. The choice of names indicates the essentially "Magyar" orientation of both troops. 

20 He was, actually, attacked by the far right wing for supporting such a "British" thing as 

21 Jewish Scouting in Hungary — including some 12 troops with ca. 2000 boys and a few hundred 
girls — is, of course, a subject for itself. 1 include this paragraph only because for many of us the 
boy-scout troop was a much more important community than the school class. Actually, when in 
the late twentieth century, we planned to hold class reunions, we scheduled them for dates when 
there was an "ex-Toldists" meeting, because for that occasion more classmates were likely to 
travel across the world. 

22 At a recent Vorosmarty anniversary meeting more than a hundred former Boy Scout brothers 
killed by Hungarian and German Nazis were remembered. The troop may have counted some 200- 
250 boys and girls in the 1940s. I have no comparable numbers for Toldi, but they would hardly be 

23 As mentioned above, the majority of pupils of the previous years, not separated by religion, 
would have suffered fates more tragic than ours, being in the age group of those taken to labor 

Jdnos M.Bak 

from a cursory look at their class lists and the fragmentary information about 
some of them (quite a few being younger brothers of my classmates), I risk saying 
that our story is fairly "typical" and thus, perhaps, not uninteresting. 

camps or murdered in forces marches towards Germany. It would be interesting to compare the 
life-stories of the parallel "non- Jewish" classes, but I have not enough information to attempt 
anything of the sort. To be sure, there were several boys in those, who, as baptized "Jews," would 
have been in a situation rather similar to ours during the war — and, maybe, thereafter. 


Vera Pecsi 

Vera Pecsi 

Chronology of the numerus clausus in Hungary 

16 January 1907: In their speeches in Parliament, Karoly Hencz and 
Karoly Kmety (members of opposition) recommend the introduction of 
restrictions on the number of Jewish students in universities and secondary 
schools, respectively. 


26 May: In his article, „Pro juventute catholica" in the periodical 
Alkotmdny /Constitution/, Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka demands that Christian 
University students be placed at an advantage over Jewish ones. 

22 June: The periodical Alkotmdny /Constitution/ demands that the Jewish 
Question be placed on the political agenda. 

31 July: Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka stresses in a speech delivered in the 
upper house of Parliament that the Hungarian people must be protected from the 
power of the Jews, rooted in their "excess of intelligence". 

1 1 September: Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka demands the forceful limitation 
of opportunity for Jews in an article entitled „Have we had enough?" in the 
periodical Alkotmdny /Constitution/. 


7 August: At the Plenary Session of the Faculty of Medicine, three 
professors recommend that the admission of women to the Faculty be limited as 
strictly as possible. 

Early August: Paramilitary university organizations form in the Capital's 
higher education institutions to maintain order and to remove left-leaning and 
Jewish students. 

6-10 August: Attacks on Jewish students in Budapest's universities begin. 

Vera Pecsi 

1 August: The head of the universities office of the Ministry of Cults and 
Public Instruction warns the Rector of the Polytechnic University that „the 
exclusion of Jewish students is completely unlawful". 

1 August: The Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction rescinds by decree 
(no: 4.507/1919) the educational and cultural policies of the Hungarian Soviet 
Republican government. 

14 august: A memorandum of the „Hungarian Christian Youth of the 
Technical Universities" demands the „the exclusion of all Jews and Bolshevists" 
from the universities. 

18 August: Formation of the Preparatory Council of the „TuruV Alliance 
of Hungarian National Universities and Polytechnics. 

22 August: Prime Minister Istvan Friedrich instructs the Ministry of Cults 
and Public Instruction Karoly Huszar to prevent violent anti-Semitic movements 
at the universities. The Ministry orders the universities closed until the end of 

The Hungarian Zionist Organisation petitions the Government, assuring it 
of their financial support and co-operation, while at the same time calling on it to 
put a stop to anti-Semitic attacks and incitement. 

The Council of the Medical Faculty of Peter Pazmany University 
recommends a „numerus clausus for students". The recommendation is presented 
by professors Karoly Hoor and Janos Barsony. They recommend the restriction 
of the participation of women in higher education, and the exclusion of anyone 
found to have participated in the Revolutions. 

27 August: The Council of Peter Pazmany University discusses the Faculty 
of Medicine's recommendation. This is the first appearance of the plan for an 
ethnic/racial quota: Mihaly Kmosko, dean of the Faculty of Catholic Theology, 
recommends that „each Faculty should establish, based on religion, past behaviour 
and race, the proportion of students to be admitted". The Faculty of Catholic 
Theology suggests at the same meeting that the quota should be extended to 
include the various national 'ethnic minorities' too. 

6 September: The Council of the Polytechnic University - at the behest of 
the Department of Chemical Engineering - decides upon the implementation of 
the numerus clausus, and asks the University's various Departments to work out 
the details. 


Vera Pecsi 

17 September: The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (Philosophy) of Peter 
Pazmany University accepts by verbal majority Professor Erno Finaczy's motion, 
which declares the recommendations for ethnic and racial quotas to be illegal, 
since such quotas are in contravention of „those fundamental national laws that 
stipulate that every citizen of the Hungarian state is equal before the law, 
regardless of religion or ethnicity". 

25 September: At a Peter Pazmany University Rector's meeting, the head 
of department of the Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction is informed that „a 
large mass of the students have formed a strong union... to enforce their desire 
that... not a single Jew should be allowed to take exams or enroll". 

27 September: Right-wing students demand the closure of the universities, 
citing the „lack of coal and continuing tensions. Karoly Huszar, Minister of Cults 
and Public Instruction, orders the temporary closure of Budapest's two 
Universities. Teaching resumes in the spring of 1920. 

The Faculty of Law of Peter Pazmany University adopts by verbal 
majority the recommendation of the Faculties of Medicine and Theology. The 
numerus clausus is to be implemented by respecting the proportionality of 
nationalities, religions and races" in the admissions process. 

12 November: The Union of Hungarian Jewish University and Polytechnic 
Students holds its first general meeting (it is superseded in 1927 by the National 
Union of Hungarian Israelite University and Polytechnic Students). 

4 December: In a decree, the Council of Peter Pazmany University comes 
down on the side of implementing the numerus clausus. It draws the attention of 
the Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction to the recommendation of the Legal 
and Catholic Theological Faculties that „in the case of a shift to the numerus 
clausus system, the admission of students belonging to religious... and racial 
minorities should only be in proportion to their proportion in the overall 
population of the country". Alfred Doleschall, the dean of the Faculty of Law in 
Budapest, emphasizes in his conclusive statement that the numerus clausus is 
„directed against the excess of Jews [in higher education]", and that the „forcing 
into the background of elements which, by their ethnicity or religion, are 
destructive," is Justified by, nay necessary to, the basic interests of self-defense" 
of the society and the state. 

9 December: The Turul Student Alliance organises a general meeting in 
the Golyavdr (University of Budapest), to discuss the „Jewish Question in the 

Vera Pecsi 


2 January: Prime Ministerial Decree no. 272/1920 is published, regarding 
the establishment of the Faculty of Economics in Budapest. The Faculty begins 
operating in the 1920-21 academic year. 

28 January: The Council of Peter Pazmany University establishes in a 
resolution that „it is a veritable cultural scandal that our University has, to this 
very day, not been able to commence its lawful operation for the 1919/20 
academic year". They call for an immediate inquiry into the numerus clausus 

7 February: Istvan Haller convenes a conference of the Ministry of Cults 
and Public Instruction with the participation of the rectors and deans of the 
Universities. They are agree on the general limitation of the number of students 
and also that the mode of selection of the students should be left up to the 
individual Faculties. They agree that „in the selection process, they do not wish to 
apply either racial or religious criteria". The Minister declares that Parliament will 
adopt a decision in this matter. They also decide that teaching in the 1919-20 
academic year will begin with a four-month supplementary term. 

9 February: Formation of the National Union of Hungarian University and 
Polytechnic Students (MEFHOSZ). The Turul Union leaves the organisation a 
few months later, and continues as a federation of right-wing student clubs. 

1 1 February: Formation of the Hungdria Association of Hungarian 

1 1 February: Publication of decree no. 4.131/1920 of the Ministry of Cults 
and Public Instruction, which establishes a four-month replacement course" for 
the academic year (which counts as two semesters). Exams begin on 16 February, 
applications on 1 March, and lectures on 16 March. 

27 February: The Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction publishes an 
amendment to its decree of the 11 February, no. 16990/1920: of those applying 
for admission to the replacement course for the 1919-20 academic year, only 
those can be admitted and allowed to take examinations who „are able to justify 
their behavior during the so-called Dictatorship of the Proletariat". Members of 
university-based paramilitary student battalion do not have to provide proof of 
their behavior. 

2 March: The Rector of Budapest University orders admissions to be 
suspended and the University closed until the paramilitary student battalion leaves 


Vera Pecsi 

the University's buildings. On 8 March, the paramilitary cell leaves the 

16 March: The Turul Union - in protest against the Rector's actions - 
holds a meeting in the Domed Hall of the University, and submit their written 
demands to MPs. The signatories of the demands, the Turul Union, the National 
Presidential Conference of The Awakening Hungarians' Association [Ebredo 
Magyar ok Egyesillete - EME], The United National Christian League and the 
Central Secretariat of the National Christian Socialist Union, demand that 
Parliament „urgently bring a law that the Jewish race, regardless of the religion of 
its individual members, be allowed to participate in all higher educational 
establishments only in the same proportion as those of Jews in the overall 
population of Hungary". 

17 march: Prime Minister Sandor Simonyi-Semadam mentions in his 
speech outlining the government's legislative programme that „the first task of the 
Minister of Cults and Public Instruction will be to implement the reform of 
education with a national and Christian bias". 

Prime Minister Sandor Simonyi-Semadam reads in Parliament a letter 
from Count Albert Apponyi in Paris, in which the head of the Hungarian 
delegation to the Peace Talks warns the government that the news of the general 
conditions prevailing in Hungary and the reports of anarchy and havoc staged by 
anti-Semitic units that reach the West are having a significantly deleterious effect 
on the position of his delegation (1/21. 59-61. lj.). 

26 April: Istvan Haller, Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction announces 
in a speech to Parliament that the numerus clausus must be realised, and that the 
number of University Students be maximized. 

28 April: MP Gyula Zakany, one of the Vice-Presidents of the Awakening 
Hungarians' Association [EME] presents a motion to Parliament incorporating the 
legal introduction of numerus clausus in the Universities, and its extension to high 
schools as well. 

According to Karoly Ereky, an MP for the National Christian Party, the 
main goal of the introduction of the Jewish quota is to expropriate, by legal 
means, within the lawful framework of the political system, the billions of income 
of Jews" . 

8 May: Students of the Polytechnic University prepare a resolution 
demanding that Parliament „within the very near future prepare a draft law to 
solve the Jewish Question in the Universities". 

Vera Pecsi 

4 June: The three-thousand strong student body of the Budapest 
Universities, having debated the numerus clausus question, issue a memorandum 
calling upon the government to „move to an institutional politics that defends the 
nation", having previously despatched a delegation to Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka 
MP, to inform him that „the next academic year... can only begin, if the numerus 
clausus is law by then implemented". 

On the day of the signing of the Trianon peace treaty, an anti-Semitic rally 
is organized in Budapest and 85 Jews are injured. 

10 June: The Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction - on the advice of 
the Council of Peter Pazmany University - bars 54 medical students form all 
domestic universities for their behavior during the Hungarian Soviet Republic. 

29 June: The Turul Union holds a general meeting in the Golyavar 
(Budapest University). They inform the Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction 
of their demands for the introduction of the numerus clausus in a memorandum. 
Their starting point is that: „In a Hungary robbed of two thirds of its territory, 
only Hungarians have the right to live and support their existence and 

Formation of the right-wing Catholic student society, Foederatio 

June (?): Publication of the Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction decree 
no. 113.240/1920 - about admission exams to secondary schools. (The so-called 
secondary school numerus clausus is abolished in 1924.) 

5 July: Istvan Haller, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction, presents to 
the government the first official draft of the proposed numerus clausus law, 
sending copies to the universities. There is no mention as yet of an ethnic quota in 
this draft. 

21 July: The government discusses the draft numerus clausus law. 

22 July: Pal Teleki, in his Prime Minister's speech outlining the 
government's legislative program promises „ to defend institutionally the interest 
of Christian society". 

Istvan Haller, Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction, submits to 
Parliament the proposed legislation to control admission to Universities, the 
Economic Faculty of Budapest University and Legal Academies; this is the so- 
called numerus clausus legislation. 


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27 July: A group of members of the Awakening Hungarians' Association 
[EME] burst into a central Budapest cafe and beat the Jewish guests bloody, 
killing a bank manager and a lawyer. 

28 July: Laszlo Budavary MP, one of the leaders of EME, calls for the 
adoption of an overarching „racial purity law" in Parliament. He calls for the law 
operational not only in the sphere of education, but in every sphere of life in the 
framework of an anti- Jewish legislation. 

5 August: MEFHOSZ with the co-operation of MPs and right-wing youth 
organisations makes an inquiry into the draft numerus clausus legislation. Bishop 
Ottokar Prohaszka, chairing the meeting, formulates his recommendation, which 
meets with general approbation, that „admissions should be proportionate to the 
overall proportion of races and ethnic groups". 

9 August: The Treasury and Education Committee of Parliament debates 
the numerus clausus draft law. In their joint report, they recommend that the 
following be inserted into the first paragraph of the draft: „only such persons may 
enroll [at the universities], who are absolutely reliable from a patriotic and moral 

1 1 August: The governing party - with Ottokar Prohaszka chairing - 
debates the draft numerus clausus law. Nandor Bernolak MP, a professor of Law 
at Debrecen University, outlines the need to fix ethnic, racial, and religious 
quotas. (At the next debate, on the 24 August, it is left to Bernolak to submit an 
individual amendment to make an 'open' numerus clausus proposal.) 

20 August: Istvan Haller, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction 
regulates the number of students to be admitted for the 1920-21 academic year by 
decree. According to the decree, Israelites are to be considered a separate 
ethnicity" (cf Magyarorszdgi zsidotorvenyek es rendeletek [Hungarian anti- 
Jewish Laws and Statutes], p. 7.) 

1 September: The United National Christian League, the Turul Union and 
the Hungary Rising Association recommend, in their petition to Parliament, that 
the Jewish quota be extended to secondary schools, as well as demanding that „in 
the fields where Jewry is excessively over-represented, no Jews should be allowed 
to join until the proper proportion is restored". 

2-12 September: Parliamentary debate of the numerus clausus law (2, 3, 
16-18, 20-21 September). 20 MPs speak in the debate; 13 for, 7 against. In the 
specific debate on 21 September, Nandor Bernolak formally submits the 
amendment - already mentioned in the general debate on 3 September - to create 

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a quota for ethnicity. Of a total of 219 MPs, only 64 are present at the final vote 
on the proposed legislation, of whom 57 vote yes. 

21 September: Parliament rejects Pal Sandor MP's motion that a Jewish 
University be established. 

22 September: Karoly Ereky attacks the government in Parliament by 
saying that „nothing is being done to bring down Jewry" (1/57. 168. lj.) 

26 September: Publication of law XXV (1920) pertaining to the control of 
the admissions process to the Scientific and Technical Universities, the 
Economics Faculty of Budapest University and Legal Academies, the co-called 
numerus clausus. 

27 September: Publication of statute no. 123.033/1920 of the Ministry of 
Cults and Public Instruction regarding the execution of law XXV (1920). In its 
appendix can be found the figures on the division of the population by mother 
tongue, with the comment that Israelites are to be considered a separate 
ethnicity". The statute confirms that the Jewish quota can only be applied to first- 
year admissions. 

11-31 October: There are disturbances at the universities because of the 
perceived inadequacies" of the numerus clausus law as enacted by Parliament. In 
the main building of Budapest University, right-wing student organizations block 
the doors, demanding identification from anyone wishing to enter, beat up Jewish 
students from higher semesters, take away their papers, and throw them out of the 
building. On 14 October, the Rector suspends admissions, teaching does not start. 
The attacks spread to the other Faculties and the Polytechnics. 

13 October: The scandals at the universities are taken up at cabinet 
meetings. The government decides that it will be as determined as possible in the 
matter of university admissions and the freedom to study. 

14 October: 40 representatives of the Turul Union meet with Istvan Haller, 
Minister of Cults and Public Instruction. They present their demands verbally, and 
in writing. They want „the extension of the numerus clausus to all institutions of 
higher education, the invalidity of acquired rights, and finally the involvement of 
the youth in the approval committees. 

On the same day, a deputation from MEFHOSZ also visits the minister. 
On the one hand, they sharply condemn the unlawful actions taking place in the 
universities, while on the other they support the Turul Union's demands. 


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19 October: The Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction publishes an 
amendment to the statute on the execution of the numerus clausus law, no. 
136.515/1920. Accordingly in those faculties where the admission of candidates 
has not yet finished, the approval committees can be complemented with two 
deputed members of right-wing student associations. The young delegates to the 
committees „can examine the documents, but have only a consultative vote". 

End of October the admissions process restarts at the Polytechnic 
University and teaching starts. 

1 1 November: The Arts and Sciences Faculty of Budapest University 
decides that in the future it will not authorize admission to members of the liberal 
Galilei Circle. Later all the other Faculties follow suit and the Council of the 
University adopts a similar resolution. 


3 March: After a lengthy debate, the cabinet accepts the Ministry of 
Defense's motion that the paramilitary right-wing student battalions should be 
maintained - with an amendment by Treasury Secretary Lorant Hegedus - until 
July of 1921. The members of the battalions ceasing to exist will be „enlisted" 
among the members of the university sports societies and will continue to operate 
under the cover names MAFC Didkotthon [Student Home] and the Polytechnic 
University Hall. Later, from the autumn of 1921, they will make up the University 
and Polytechnics groups of the National Labour Protection organisation (NMV). 

16 June: Parliament adopts law XXV (1921) regarding the temporary 
transfer of the Royal Hungarian universities of Kolozsvar/Cluj and 
Pozsony/Bratislava. The two universities, the Franz Josef University of Kolozsvar 
and the Erzsebet University of Bratislava, annexed by successor states in the 
Trianon Peace Treaty, are transferred to Szeged and Pecs respectively. 

November: The Joint Foreign Committee of the Jewish Board of Deputies, 
the Anglo-Jewish Association and the Alliance Israelite Universelle present a 
joint petition to the League of Nations in the matter of the Hungarian numerus 
clausus. The Council of the League of Nations debates the issue, but does not 
come to a decision. 

A confidential Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction decree no. 
91.487/1921, extends the effect of the numerus clausus law to those who wish to 
continue their education in Hungary, having begun it abroad. 

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The British Jewish politician Lucien Wolf, foreign correspondent of the 
Times, outlines in his submission to the League of Nations that the Hungarian 
numerus clausus contravenes points 56, 57 and 58 of the Trianon Treaty. 


Motions to abolish the law came one after the other in Parliament: between 
1922 and 1924, eight such motions failed when put to the vote. Prime minister 
Istvan Bethlen openly opposed the motions at abolition. 

20 July: The Bishops of the Hungarian Churches of Transylvania ask the 
Hungarian government to abolish the numerus clausus law, because this would 
help the situation of Hungarians who now found themselves in a minority status in 

18 September: The General Assembly of the League of Nations 
unanimously accepts Hungary as a member. 

30 September: The Council of the League of Nations asks the Hungarian 
government for detailed information on the implementation of the numerus 
clausus law. In his response, Foreign Minister Miklos Banffy denies that the law 
represents a severe restriction for Jews. The League of Nations acknowledges the 
response, but asks for further information on admission procedures. 

October: at the University of Pecs, right-wing students beat up their Jewish 
colleagues bloody during a chemistry practical. The Rector suspends practicals 
throughout the University, and all the students in that year have to repeat the 

16 December: MP Gyula Gombos, Vice-President of the Party of Unity 
[Egyseges Part] in a speech to Parliament demands the introduction of the 
numerus clausus to all fields of economic life. 


January The Hungarian government transmits the information requested 
regarding admission procedures to the League of Nations. The League appoints a 
three-member committee to examine the statistics. The committee's report - 
based on the data - is condemnatory of the numerus clausus law. 

15 March: In Budapest, university students stage protests in favour of the 
anti-Semitic periodicals Szozat and Nep, and against the Est newspapers. 


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16-17 March: Attacks on Jewish students begin at the Veterinary School 
and the University of Economics. Teaching is temporarily suspended. 

Summer (?): University students in Pecs threaten a boycott and organize a 
protest demanding that the University's council adhere to the numerus clausus. In 
a memorandum addressed to all the universities in the country, they demand that 
Jews should not be allowed to be employed as assistant professors or lab 
assistants, and that every university review the status of the Jews enrolled as 
students there. 


4 January: Pal Sandor MP, president of OMIKE, introduces a motion into 
Parliament in which he recommends the abolition of the numerus clausus law and 
the establishment of a Jewish University. The motion is rejected. 

4 June 4: Kuno Klebelsberg, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction 
declares in Parliament that the fate of the numerus clausus law depends on what 
concessions the Great Powers are willing to make in the question of Hungary's 

23 September: In a supreme court case against an extreme right-wing 
journalist charged with incitement, the court determines that „according to our 
laws, Hungarian Jewry represents neither a separate ethnicity, nor a distinct social 


Beginning of January: The Joint Foreign Committee presents another 
petition to the League of Nations in the matter of the numerus clausus law, where 
the issue of the classification of Jews as a race, ethnicity or religion is raised. 

1 January: Lucien Wolf turns to the League of Nations for a second time, 
requesting that the League refer the matter of the numerus clausus to the 
International Court in the Hague. The League refers the case not to the Hague 
court, but to the Council of the League of Nations. 

19 May: The Hungarian government, in its note to the League of Nations 
explains that the numerus clausus law „deliberately avoids any reference to the 
religious minority.. .since it is within the individual's power to change their 
religion at any time". 

18 August: In response to a question from the delegation sent by the 
Council of the League of Nations, seeking to know whether the government is 

Vera Pecsi 

planning to modify the numerus clausus law, the Foreign Minister Lajos Walko in 
his brief reply declares that there is no need to modify either the law or its method 
of application. 

23 November: The Jewish community - at Prime Minister Istvan Bethlen's 
behest and with the formulation worked out by Vilmos Vazsonyi, a Jewish MP - 
accepts a unanimous declaration: „We are Hungarians, we hold ourselves to be 
part of the Hungarian people, and the Peace Treaty, which is our Nation's sorrow, 
should not be made the source of our legal rights... we want to deal with the matter 
of the numerus clausus on a domestic level, with the help of our own government 
and our own legislature. In other words, we have not, and will not, turn to any 
foreign power for help, and though its motivations be good, we would refuse such 

30 November: Kuno Klebelsberg, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction, 
presents his submission to the League of Nations regarding the numerus clausus 

10 December: The Council of the League of Nations adds a detailed debate 
on the numerus clausus law to its agenda. They acknowledge the representative of 
the Hungarian government, Kuno Klebelsberg, Minister of Cults and Public 
Instruction, argument and promise that the law is a one-off and temporary 
measure and will be modified as soon as the social situation permits. 

1-17 December: Klebelsberg and Vazsonyi's exchanges in Parliament. 

17 December: In Parliament, to Vilmos Vazsonyi MP's question as to 
whether the government considers Jewry a racial minority or a religious group, 
Prime Minister Istvan Bethlen replies: „the law brought about the numerus 
clausus declared Jewry to be a racial minority... Needless to say, this does not 
mean that this is the Government's standpoint. 


9 September: Kuno Klebersberg, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction, 
accepting the April petition of the Pest Jewish Community, orders that Jewish 
converts when applying for admission to universities and the Polytechnics, are to 
be treated in the same way as Christian applicants. 

Early October: Lucien Wolfs letter to former Treasury Secretary Lorant 
Hegediis informing him that his White Paper on the discriminative practices of the 
numerus clausus law was ready and would be submitted to the League of Nations 
and the International Court in the Hague in December. 


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22 October: Lorant Hegediis' letter to Prime Minister Istvan Bethlen, in 
which he offers to act as a go-between between Lucien Wolf and the Hungarian 
government. Bethlen forwards Hegediis's letter to Kuno Klebelsberg, Minister of 
Cults and Public Instruction, for his opinion. 

3 November: Kuno Klebelsberg 's reply to Istvan Bethlen, in which he 
recommends the rejection of Hegediis's offer. In his letter, Klebelsberg declares 
that „we will have to revise the law", since it really does contravene international 
law, but that the change cannot lead to a situation where „we dump thousands of 
Jewish university students once more in the nation's lap". 

16 November: Prime Minister Istvan Bethlen, in his campaign speech at 
the Vigado theatre officially announces that the numerus clausus law will be 


13 May: Bela Fabian's recommendation for the modification of the 
numerus clausus. 

2 September: The Council of the League of Nations announces that the 
League will discuss the Hungarian government's complaint against Romania in 
the case of the Optans landowners. 

4 September: The Alliance Israelite Universelle and the Joint Foreign 
Committee (on 14 September) again approach the League of Nations regarding 
the numerus clausus. 

14 September: Lucien Wolf writes personally to the Secretary General of 
the League of Nations in the matter of the numerus clausus. 

17-18 September: The Council of the League - following the complaint of 
the Hungarian government - debates the Hungarian-Romanian Optans issue. 
There is no decision, and the matter is deferred to the next meeting, in December. 

7 October: Lucien Wolf again makes a formal complaint against the 
Hungarian government. Under the rules of the League of Nations, the matter of 
the numerus clausus has to be added to the timetable of their December session. 

1 9 October: Prime Minister Istvan Bethlen announces at a meeting of the 
Unified Party [Egyseges Part] that the government will erase the restrictions 
applicable to Jews from the numerus clausus law. 


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1 8 November: Kuno Klebersberg, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction, 
following cabinet approval on the 4 November presents a motion to modify law 
XXV of 1920. 

November: The right-wing student battalions make posters protesting 
against the planned changes to the numerus clausus law. They check Jewish 
students' papers, molest and beat them, and prevent them from entering university 
premises. Because of these disturbances, the government delays the changes to the 
law until the spring of 1928. 

2 December: Istvan Bethlen informs the League of Nations of the planned 
changes to the numerus clausus law, at the same time - by means of delegates - 
conducts meetings with the representatives of international Jewish associations. 


9 February: The debate to modify law XXV of 1920 begins in Parliament. 
The changes are approved on the 24 February with a majority of 139 votes against 
34. The upper house debates and accepts the changes in March. 

13 February: University students organize protests and strikes against the 
softening of the numerus clausus law. 

March: The international Jewish organizations submit another petition to 
the League of Nations regarding the opportunities for discrimination hidden in the 
modified law. The League of Nations does not consider the petition, and considers 
the matter of the Hungarian numerus clausus closed. 

26 April: Publication of law XIV (1928) concerning the modification of 
law XXV (1920) regarding the regulation of admissions to Universities, the 
Polytechnic University, the Faculty of Economics of Budapest and the Legal 
Academies. The modification removes the restrictions according to „racial 
minorities and ethnicities", but prescribes that the children of various occupational 
clusters should get admission to the universities and the Polytechnics in 
proportionate ratios. 

15-25 October: Outbreak of university protests due to the softening of 
the numerus clausus law. 

17 October: University admissions councils do not comply with the 
requirements of the execution of law XIV (1928), therefore Kuno Klebelsberg 
issues ministerial instructions for the admission of 14 Jewish students with 
exemplary high-school degrees. He mentions the Jewish students by name in 


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Parliament. The universities of Pecs, Debrecen and Budapest are closed for 
several days following disorder and violence in the wake of his announcement. 


25 October: At a cabinet meeting, the Foreign Minister Lajos Walko 
declares that „the constant student protests and anti-Jewish attacks in our higher 
educational institutions are indeed harming the country's standing". Prime 
Minister Istvan Bethlen calls on Kuno Klebelsberg, the Minister of Culture, to 
stop these anti-Semitic incidents. 


27 August: Prime Minister Gyula Karolyi in his introductory speech to 
Parliament highlights that „it is my personal understanding, an understanding 
shared by the entire government, that in this country we cannot differentiate 
whatsoever on the basis of religion". 


October : In the course of violent incidents at the Universities of Szeged 
and Budapest, it is demanded that the admission of Jewish students be regulated 
according to the original 1920 law. 

14 November: Outbreak of anti- Jewish atrocities at the University of 
Debrecen. In a memorandum, the „Christian Hungarian Youth" demands that 
during the admissions process the „already very much diluted numerus reductus 
be applied as strictly as possible". 

26 November: The National Union of Hungarian Students - the top body 
of radical right-wing university students - in a memorandum asks Balint Homan, 
Minister of Cults and Public Instruction to rescind the 1928 modification of the 

29 November: Balint Homan Minister of Cults and Public Instruction in 
response to a question in Parliament declares that „I will use all means to ensure 
the freedom to study at the universities for every student, regardless of social or 
religious belonging". 


November-December There are a number of serious physical attacks on 
Jewish students at the University of Debrecen, and street protests against budget 
cuts caused by the recession. The disturbances then spread to the universities of 

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Budapest, Pecs and Szeged. The organisers demand the reinstatement of the 
original numerus clausus law. Teaching is suspended. 

20 November: In a memorandum addressed to Balint Homan, Minister of 
Cults and Public Instruction, the youth organisations at the Polytechnic University 
demand that „Jewish students should not be admitted to the universities until the 
number of Jewish students already enrolled is reduced to the same percentage as 
represented by Jews in the overall population of the country". 

29 November: Balint Homan, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction 
explains in Parliament, having repeatedly condemned the attacks, that „we must 
strive towards the result that there should be no difference in the proportion of 
Hungarian Christian and Jewish youth at the universities compared to the 
proportion of Christians and Jews in the country as a whole". 

7 December: Prime Minister Gyula Gombos and Balint Homan Minister of 
Cults and Public Instruction, meet the leaders of university youth groups. The 
Prime Minister declares that although there is no question of modifying law XIV 
(1928), the university admissions councils will in practice enforce controls on 
admitting Jewish applicants as required in law XXV (1920). 


16 January: At a cabinet meeting, Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, Minister of 
the Interior, announces that the „Jewish quota" will be enforced in the next 
academic year. 


20 November: Emericana organises a demonstration against Jewish 
students at the University of Szeged. 

29 November: Between 60-80 students of the Budapest Law Faculty and 
Polytechnics disrupt lectures, expelling the Jewish students from the lecture halls. 
Teaching is suspended for several days. 


2 December: At the general assembly of the Turul Union, the 
representative of Hungdria demands that „Jewry be classified as a race and that 
the numerus clausus be applied accordingly". 


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24 February: A group of students wearing hats with nationalist symbols 
insults Jewish students at the Arts and Sciences Faculty of Budapest University. 
At the University of Pecs, Jewish students are prevented from taking part in 

1 1 May: In a parliamentary speech, Istvan Bethlen protests against the 
Jewish law under preparation. He finds it unconscionable that the equality of 
citizens before the law be prejudiced on the basis of religion or ethnicity. 

15 September: Balint Homan Minister of Cults and Public Instruction 
announces at a meeting with the rectors of the universities that the „racial quota" 
of the numerus clausus „is being respected". He asks them to prevent renewed 
disturbances among the youth. 

October: At a demonstration in the Trefort-gardens in Budapest, right- 
wing youth groups demand a numerus nullus. At the request of Elemer Csaszar, 
dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the police intervenes and 19 students are 
placed in preliminary detention. 


8 April: Prime Minister Kalman introduces the so-called First Jewish Law 
into Parliament. 

23-24 April: Emericana at its National Diet in Pecs, issues a resolution 
demanding that stricter limits be applied to Jewish converts in the university 
admissions process. 

5 May: 59 prominent Hungarian writers, artists and scientists publish a 
declaration protesting against the proposed Jewish Law. 

29 May: Publication of law XV (1938), "to ensuring greater efficiency in 
securing the balance of social and economic life" (the so-called First Jewish Law). 
The law makes explicit that Jews can only be admitted to the various professions 
if the percentage of Jewish members does not exceed 20%. 

23 December: The Government submits to parliament the draft of the 
proposed Second Jewish Law. The draft does not include arrangements regarding 
the numerus clausus. 

Vera Pecsi 


8 March: Prime Minister Pal Teleki meets with the leaders of youth groups 
about the proposed amendment to the Second Jewish Law regarding the numerus 

1 1 March: Balint Homan Minister of Cults and Public Instruction receives 
leaders of right wing youth groups and promises that the numerus clausus for the 
universities will be applied in the form that they requested. 

1 1 April: Hungary leaves the League of Nations. 

5 May: Publication of law rV (1939), "on the restriction of the role of Jews 
in public and economic life" (the so-called Second Jewish Law). The law fixes the 
proportion of Jews in the professions at 6%. Paragraph 7 states that „Jews may be 
admitted as students or undergraduates to the first year of universities and the 
Polytechnics only in such proportion that their numbers do not exceed six per cent 
of all the students admitted to the university, or to the specific Faculty (class); in 
the case of the Faculty of Economic and Trade of the Jozsef Nador Polytechnic 
and Economic University, this percentage is 12%". 

25 July: Publication of statute 7.300/1939 ME regarding the 
implementation of paragraph 7 of law IV (1939). In the statute, unlike in the 1920 
numerus clausus law, the Jewish quota is to be implemented in the artistic 
academies as well as. Higher-year students, who are applying for specific subjects 
or faculties for the first time, are to be treated as first-year students. 

„It follows from the spirit of law IV (1939) that Jewish [secondary school] 
students are to be admitted in proportion to the percentage that the Jewish 
population compared to the Christian population of the country represents" - 
according to the text of a secret decree of the Ministry of Cults and Public 
Instruction concerning the introduction of a numerus clausus for new entries into 
secondary schools. 


15 November: Balint Homan, Minister of Cults and Public Instruction, 
explains in his justification of the draft law on the regulation of admissions of 
university and polytechnic students (law XXXIX, 1940) that new regulations will 
now be introduced instead of the Jewish quota, abolished under international 
pressure. Instead of „naming [Jews] directly, they will serve the same goal 
„indirectly" as the original 1920 Jewish quota, by introducing quotas targeted at 
the professions. 


Vera Pecsi 


8 August: Law XV (1941) comes into effect, on the modification and 
expansion of law XXXI (1894) on marriage, and concomitantly the necessary 
arrangements "for the protection of racial purity" (the so-called Third Jewish 

1 1 November: At a meeting of Parliament, during the debate of the 
Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction's 1942 budget, Denes Tomboly, a 
government MP, declares in his speech presenting the budget, that „we must fix as 
a principle that no Jew should be allowed to participate in Hungarian higher 
education", adding that „in the Jewish question at the universities, it is not the 
letter of the law that should be obeyed, but its spirit". 


18 November: Publication of decree of the Minister of Defence, no. 
69.056/1942, which imposes on male Jews between the ages of 18 and 48 the 
obligation to accomplish forced labor service. 


31 March: Publication of government order 1210/1944 ME, which ends 
the employment of Jews in the public sphere, as well as ending their public 
contracts and further preventing them from working as lawyers. 

13 April: The 1943-44 academic year is ended due to the state of the war. 

25 April: Publication of statute no. 1540/1944 ME prohibiting the 
employment or activity of Jews in white collar jobs. 

30 April: Publication of statute 10.800/1944 ME on the protection of 
Hungarian intellectual life from the works of Jewish authors. 

6 May: Publication of decree 8.700/1944 of the Ministry of Cults and 
Public Instruction, which forbids Jewish students from wearing school uniforms. 

12 May: Publication of decree 8.960/1944 of the Ministry of Cults and 
Public Instruction, which withdraws existing authorization from Jews for the 
maintenance of schools, courses, or houses of learning. 

20 May: Istvan Antal Minister of Justice and also Minister of Cults and 
Public Instruction gives verbal instructions that in the draft law to be prepared on 
the exclusion of Jews from the public, cultural and economic life of the country, 

Vera Pecsi 

there should be a passage laying down a numerus nullus to be applied in 
institutions of higher learning. This however, does not come to pass. 

24 June: Publication of decree 11.300/1944 ME on removing works of 
Jewish authors from public circulation. 

5 December: Publication of decree 960/1944 BM of the Ministry of the 
Interior on changing the names of streets, roads and squares. 

29 October: Teaching is suspended, the 1944-45 academic year never 
really starts due to the emergency situation. 


19 January: Publication of decree 444/1945 ME by the pro-Nazi 
government on erasing students of Jewish descent from student rosters of 
secondary schools, high schools and vocational schools. 

17 March: Decree 200/1945 ME of the National Provisional Government 
abolishing all anti- Jewish Laws, stating in paragraph 2 that these laws contravene 
the constitutional spirit of the Hungarian people and proudly declaring the 
renewed equality of all citizens before the law. 


15 November 1946: Publication of law XXV (1946) stigmatizing the 
persecution of Hungarian Jewry and the easing of its consequences. ' 

I express my special thanks to Mark Baczoni for his stylistical work on my paper. 




Maria M. Kovacs; 

Peter Tibor Nagy;; 

Andor Ladanyi; 

Victor Karady;; 

Robert Kerepeszki;; 1 92&sz_ID=8868 

Katalin Fenyves;; 

Csaba Fazekas;; 

Tibor Frank;; 

Michael L. Miller; 

Lucian Nastasa;; http://www.history- 

Janos M. Bak ; 

Vera Pecsi; 

Part I. Academe and the politics of numerus clausus 

Maria M. Kovacs: The Hungarian numerus clausus: ideology, 
apology and history, 1919-1945 

Peter Tibor Nagy: The first anti -Jewish law 
in inter-war Europe 

Andor Ladanyi: On the 1928 amendment to the Hungarian 
numerus clausus act 

Victor Karady: The restructuring of the academic market place 
in Hungary 

Robert Kerepeszki: "The racial defense in Practice". The activity 
of the Turul Association at Hungarian universities between the 
two world wars 

Part II. Around the numerus clausus in Central-Europe 

Katalin Fenyves: A successful battle for symbolic space: 
the numerus clausus law in Hungary 

Csaba Fazekas: "Numerus clausus represents a strong national 
ideology." Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka and the closed number 
law in Hungary 

Tibor Frank: "All modern people are persecuted". Intellectual exodus 
and the Hungarian trauma, 1918-1920 

Michael L. Miller: Numerus clausus exiles: Hungarian Jewish 
students in inter- war Berlin 

Lucian Nastasa: Anti-semitism at universities in Romania 

Janos M. Bak: Memories about a segregated "Jewish Class" 
in a Budapest grammar school - 1939-1947 

Vera Pecsi: Chronology of the numerus clausus in Hungary